Berta Oliva

Interviewee: Berta Oliva De Nativi, Founder of COFADEH, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: COFADEH offices in Tegucigalpa
Date: 14th October 2016

Key Words: Human rights defenders, Land rights, Corruption, Impunity, Criminalisation, CICIH [International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras], CICIG [International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala], MACCIH [Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras]

Martin Mowforth (MM): …. Some thoughts of Berta Oliva de Nativi about the case of the 35 high-placed government officials, including those from the Honduran Armed Forces. My question is: do you believe that the resolution of these 35 cases would clean up the situation in Honduras, or is it simply the tip of the iceberg? Do you follow?

Berta OlivaO: Look, yes, I think that the issue of the detentions following on from the extraditions of people from our country is not going to resolve any problem. What it’s reflecting is the inexistence of a system of justice in our country – the incapacity of those who administer justice in Honduras. What it also shows is the complexity of the degraded state of affairs that our country has unfortunately fallen into after the military coup.

It becomes more and more worrying because one sees the human rights organisations have been accompanying not [specific] cases but processes in the country in order to document, help and position themselves with respect to the different petitions which are legally recognised in our country. This gives the chance to the same authorities which claim that they are conducting investigations to bring prosecutions to the courts in Honduras.

Why [do the human rights organisations do this]? To return hope to the Honduran people who are eager to see justice. But we have constantly seen that there is manipulation covering up technical knowledge in human rights, throughout the whole justice system, cleaning up everything as regards human rights. But what we see every time is the strengthening of impunity in Honduras. And impunity then allows aggression towards human rights defenders in general. Also we see the complicity of those who are charged with imparting justice in the corruption that our country generates, a country full of impunity.

So the extraditions reflect that, that we do not have a system of law, we do not have a system of justice that is capable of carrying out an investigation and of applying sanctions. And we don’t have such a system because when extradition charges are brought or when we mention the extradition of members of the National Council or Deputies or even Congress members, some local authorities, such as Mayors or Deputies – these are the authorities which represent the different legal structures established in our country, and they are the ones on the list or who have been charged [with extradition].

So we have a lot to do to understand why there is no justice in Honduras and why it’s going to be so hard to return to this position of building the hope that Honduras can change in terms of the application of justice. For one, because it’s interesting to see that it is these same authorities who are linked to organised crime and who are part of the structures of terror which are part of the phenomenon of narco-trafficking. So when they are charged, when they are accused in the courts, we have a complex situation in the country. It is the authorities which are part of the problem of organised crime, of narco-trafficking and of the serious and constant violations of human rights. We have a country so degraded that every time fewer Hondurans get angry in our own country. Why? Because we don’t have anyone to turn to, an authority which can solve the problem. You have to come from abroad to see how to help resolve such an acute crisis in Honduras. With sorrow, with concern and with indignation, I can tell you today it is a country that suffers serious intervention. We are under complete control. Here we have, for example, the presence of the Southern Command of the United States [which] is more than evident. Here one can see how the international organisation MACCIH [Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras] operates; it says it aims to combat corruption in Honduras or at least helps to combat corruption.

But also all the time the International Red Cross is being strengthened in Honduras. Why? Because something serious is happening here. We also have the presence of the offices of the High Commission [UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency]; although this doesn’t work for the defenders, but the reason that there is a presence and offices of the High Commission in any country is because it is a country in crisis, and it also suffers a high degree of outside intervention. And there is a strong presence of the UNHCR in Honduras. And simply we have the presence of PBI [Peace Brigades International], which although it helps the defenders is here because they are aware of the crisis and the agony that we have in Honduras.

So, I make these remarks because I always see a tendency from central authorities, from the government, to believe that militarising the country, re-militarising Honduran society and the state’s institutions is going to resolve the problem which it’s been incapable of resolving because that [militarisation] is part of the strategy. From within the state they create a culture of fear through violence: public insecurity, legal insecurity, the student crisis, the education system that we have in the country; it is so worrying because in a country where the education system is permanently in crisis, it’s logical that the results are going to be so mediocre that we are going to have a population with much more illiteracy than we currently have.

So I believe, I’m absolutely convinced, that the situation in the country is deteriorating, and it’s becoming increasingly debased. And the human rights defenders, especially those with human rights organisations, that we have worked with accompanying processes and the victims – we are at permanent risk. And that costs us dearly because personally I work for the promotion of life, the promotion of liberties, for the strengthening of a state of law so that we can have those rights, to see how we can recover our rights. So we’re aware of the risks that face us, but we’re not going to recommend saying “I’m at risk”, because then we would dedicate ourselves to protecting ourselves and that would generate tension which they would see in us. And I’m concerned, really concerned, that the people in the communities, in the interior of the country, those who are unseen, that they are not protected.

I believe that it’s important that the international organisations must understand that to protect human rights defenders and organisations you have to be part of a chain. You protect me because I carry out a function of accompaniment, of follow-up, of exposure and of action on the ground.

MM: Yes.

BO: So it’s a game of chess, like moving a chess piece, but we also have to be aware of it. First, I think that to understand the logic of what we are living through, you have to have a class consciousness.

MM: Yes, I understand. OK. Many thanks.

One las question please. Do you think that a CICIH [International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras], like the CICIG in Guatemala, would be a route out of the Honduran problems? I imagine that that won’t be very realistic because the government is blocking the possibility of creating a CICIH. But they’ve already created their own investigative organisation. But do you think that a CICIH would be a possibility? And would it be a serious path out of the Honduran problems?

Berta Oliva: Look, with the levels of breakdown of the country, I believe that we have to begin to re-establish our participation as citizens. The government has done all it can to create the culture of fear, to keep us in silence so that we say nothing and are unable to join together. But it’s also doing everything it can to impose its own structures and mechanisms, making use of its international alliances and also taking advantage of international treaties and conventions to put in place its own spaces which certify its actions. Far from calling for the government and the authorities for a non-continuation along this route, what we have in the country is a process of certification of violations of human rights and of citizen rights.

So at the present moment I don’t see that a CICIH in the Guatemalan style can be installed in our country. Why? Because it has to have the approval of the government in order for it to function well. And it’s not convenient for the government to have a CICIH because there is already the example of what happened in Guatemala. So it’s not going to want to create a space of that kind so that within one, or ten, or five, or four years, it brings to life what the government in Guatemala is experiencing.

So, I think that at first what must be done is the empowerment of Hondurans, to begin to speak, to begin to articulate, what we are left with to adjust, to juggle with the necessities really. Because I’m going to say: the government also has a strategy to submit the majority of the Honduran people to hunger. Through unemployment we get the buying and selling of people at a local level, and those who can’t buy are submitted to fear. There is a strategy to place us, for example human rights defenders, against the majority of the population. We can’t continue to remain silent about the levels of criminalisation which we face in the country. I can tell you that lately, whilst the government has been working on international lobbying to say that it has advanced on human rights, here they continue criminalising people. On Friday last week, six campesinos from the ‘El Paraíso’ ranch were criminalised for defending a piece of land on which they could live and eat. Amongst the six campesinos is a human rights defender who has been a beneficiary of our training programme for empowerment and who represented human rights defenders locally. And on this we can say that he is a member of the ‘El Paraíso’ network; that is, a defender found guilty today. But likewise another defender of the South network, who has also benefitted from our programmes and who even managed to create networks of human rights defenders, has been arrested and convicted. We’ve managed to get him liberated, this human rights defender from the south of the country, but conditionally.

So, what to say?

MM: The ‘El Paraíso’ ranch is in the south?

BO: No. The southern network is in the south of the country, and it’s there that Abel Pérez was convicted. He was arrested, we managed to get him out, but his freedom is only conditional. And he has to present himself to the Judicial Power, saying that he is there, that he’s not doing anything bad, prohibited from going near the land he was defending and where he was accompanying those who were recovering a bit of land.

And the ‘El Paraíso’ network is in the north-west and has a border with [the department of] Olancho.

MM: Ah with Olancho.

BO: With Olancho and with Nicaragua.

MM: Yes. OK.

BO: So there we are, we have to denounce this type of deed. That is to say, feel for the defenders, they are imprisoned because they accompany those who recover a little piece of land which they have worked on for years. And they are submitted to an unjust system of justice, but they say “No!” so they’re submitted to the law, and the law is what it says. And so it becomes clear in this sense that not all the law is just because they are committing injustices not only against the campesinos, but as much against the human rights defenders. Apart from this burden that affects us, there is a campaign of permanent criminalisation. Today the government sees the human rights defenders as the enemy, like before they saw us as those who were accused and who were then disappeared as terrorists. Now they look upon the defenders in the same way as if we give a bad image of the country; so they declare us to be bad Hondurans because we speak and say what is happening in Honduras.

MM: Yes, I follow. OK.

BO: So, as far as the MACCIH is concerned, I don’t believe that it can be installed in our country at this moment. Sorry, I don’t believe that a CICIH can be established here. What we do have is a MACCIH which has already been here for two months, and we have seen that it is largely silenced; and whilst everything happens, nothing happens. They don’t notice the danger.

MM: Yes. OK. Very many thanks Berta.

END

Interview with Manuel Zelaya, deposed President of Honduras

Interviewee: Manuel Zelaya
Interviewer: Anya Parampil
Date: 20 October 2019
Theme: In the interview Manuel Zelaya discusses the extreme violence, drug trafficking, economic depression, migration crisis, Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), WikiLeaks, Venezuela, and more.

In August 2019 The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil held an exclusive interview with Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, on the 10th anniversary of the US-backed right-wing military coup that overthrew him. We are grateful to Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone for permission to reproduce the interview in The Violence of Development website.

The Grayzone is an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire. It was founded and is edited by award-winning journalist and author Max Blumenthalhttps://thegrayzone.com/

AP is a journalist based in Washington, DC. She previously hosted a daily progressive afternoon news program called In Question on RT America. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula and Palestine.

Anya Parampil  (AP): Thank you for your time, Mr. President. It has been 10 years since you were removed in a US-backed coup from your position as the democratically elected president of Honduras. What has the United States accomplished since then, what has changed in your country?

Manuel Zelaya (MZ): The rupture of a social contract, which we call the constitution of the republic, in the constitution of the state, when a social contract is broken, what logically comes next is the law of the stronger (survival of the fittest). Crimes, killings, torture. Always the winning side against the opposition.

That has been a sacrifice for the Honduran people, because the side that took power had the support of the United States. The US is the major beneficiary of the coup. And there is a principle in penal law that says the beneficiary of a crime is the principal suspect.

How has it been the beneficiary? The US has almost complete control over Honduras. Control over justice through the OAS (Organisation of American States). It controls security through US Southern Command. It controls the economy through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and IDB (Inter-American Development Bank).

It controls the main media networks in Honduras; it has a big influence over the opinion of the main media outlets. It funds many churches, which receive donations from North American NGOs. And it finances Honduran NGOs. That is, it controls public opinion. It controls the powers of the state.

And in this way, it has a high interference in the decisions of states like Honduras, poor states, weak states, where their rulers, to receive protection, give up everything to the North Americans.

AP: What has been the impact on the average Hondurans throughout these years?

MZ: Poverty increased. There are more poor people. The poverty level already surpasses almost 70 percent of the population. Crime increased. Drug-trafficking increased. According to a report from the US State Department, drug trafficking in Honduras after the coup increased by almost double. And the report says that Honduras became “the drug-trafficking paradise.”

External debt increased. When they took me out at gunpoint, we owed $3 billion. Today, in 10 years, we owe $14 billion. That is four times more. So this means the country has serious problems with a lack of economic growth, a lack of investment, human rights violations.

And I will present you with only one piece of proof: The [migrant] caravans heading to the US are from Honduras. Because the [US-backed] coup d’etat turned Honduras into hell.

AP: How has this situation, what has happened over the last 10 years, contributed to the development of your party, Libre?

MZ: We are a party of opposition to the coup d’etat. And for 10 years those who carried out the coup have governed. They are the spawn of the coup. And the more errors they commit, the more they oppress, the more the opposition grows.

AP: And this has led to the strengthening of the social movements here?

MZ: Well, social movements don’t grow for a sectarian political reason; they grow because electricity was privatized and they can’t pay for light. Many social services have been privatized. They have been given to private companies. And the problem is not just that they leave it to private enterprise. Private enterprise is efficient, but it’s expensive.

The most comfortable thing for a ruler is to say, “Security will be managed for me by US Southern Command.” “The economy will be managed for me by the IMF.” “The soldiers will manage internal security for me.” “And private enterprise will manage the money for me.” So, what does the ruler do? Nothing. Simply give benefits to his followers.

AP: Who is Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) and why are we seeing now, 10 years after the coup, a re-ignition of unrest in the streets and a demand that JOH leave office?

MZ: He (JOH) is a son of the coup. He has serious personality problems. For example, I was president. And I walked in the streets. And people greeted me. And they told me, “Hi Mel! Hi President!” He (JOH) travels with armoured cars, with helicopters. He travels with a huge security team.

In my opinion, he has a problem with mental illness. He believes that being president is a big deal. And the pastors come and tell him he is chosen by God. So it becomes even worse. And he begins to act like a person who is not in touch with reality.

The people are protesting because of hunger. And he thinks they’re protesting because of politics. And he tells to the United States a speech that the US, its right-wing, conservative governing class wants to hear. He says, “In Honduras there is terrorism. [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez’s people are there in Honduras. And they are affecting me, the drug traffickers.”

I think he is suffering from psychopathy.

AP: And what about the accusations of corruption? Some Hondurans I spoke to today told me how JOH is one of the richest men in the region.

MZ: The corruption is public. They broke the social security system. Look, how do you sustain an illegal government? Paying people off. If they are legal, they don’t need to pay. Because they are the product of a social pact.

But when there is a coup d’etat, there is fraud. So they need to corrupt the institutions to sustain themselves. The fact that the United States supports a coup d’etat makes them support a dictator. And that is why corruption is surging. The corruption is the result of the dictatorship.

AP: Hondurans have also told me that a small group of families control much of the country in terms of industry and specifically the media. Can you talk about the media’s role in the coup and also in sustaining the dictatorship, which you describe?

MZ: That is how capitalism works. In the US, France, anywhere. Capitalism is based on just one principle: accumulation of wealth. That is how it functions here and in the rest of the world.

A small elite of transnational [corporations] associated with people in countries who clean up for them. They do business, and that business creates the need to set up security for themselves.

They don’t tolerate competition. I brought in oil from Venezuela, with Hugo Chávez, and they insisted that they had to maintain their agreements. And they did not accept Venezuela. And that was one of the motives behind the coup.

AP: And I believe the US ambassador at the time, Charles Ford, told you you’re not allowed to do this, as though he had the right to do this as a foreign ambassador.

MZ: The US gives advice that if you don’t follow, they act with reprisals. US President George W. Bush told it to me. John Negroponte told it to me. Ambassador Ford told it to me. And other government officials.

Bush said it to me in these words: “You cannot have relations with Hugo Chávez.” John Negroponte, his deputy secretary of state, told me, “If you sign the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance), you are going to have problems with the US.”

And I signed the ALBA. And I would sign it again if I had the chance. Because it is to help Honduras progress.

I needed the support from Brazil, the support from Venezuela, the support from the US, the support from Europe. We are not able to depend solely on the US, because the US has its own interests. It’s another nation.

AP: I would like you to comment on the significance of Wikileaks in the history of your country but also the region, and what you think about what is currently happening to Julian Assange with the with the help of the government in Ecuador?

MZ: Julian Assange is a symbol of freedom in the world today, tomorrow, and forever. He will be one of the people, in the future, like one of the great prophets. In their day, they are repressed. And later they become a symbol. That’s what Julian Assange will become.

Julian Assange proclaimed a world without secrets, an open world, a free world. Of course he affects the [powerful] interests of today. But in the future, I, and others in other generations, will follow the example of Assange.

AP: We were speaking about Ambassador Ford, I believe after he finished his work in the embassy here he went to work for SOUTHCOM, the military. Can you talk about how central the interests of the US military are to what happened with you and how its presence in the country has grown since you were ousted?

MZ: [Honduran] soldiers are trained at the [US] School of the Americas. All of their drills they do with the US. For the soldiers, the ideal of their life is to be like the US Marines, like US soldiers.

And here, the US controls the armed forces and the police. They do what the US wants them to do. They are occupation forces.

AP: I want to talk a little bit about the region, specifically Nicaragua. What do you think about the US-backed coup attempt he (Daniel Ortega) has faced over this last year? This month, I believe, is the one year anniversary since the government there defeated a US backed regime change operation.

MZ: When I returned [after the coup], I made several attempts to return to Honduras. In the return from Washington to Honduras, I was not able to land, because the military blocked me. So I had to come back through the Las Manos border crossing in Nicaragua. Then I secretly entered the Brazilian embassy. Two years later I returned from the Dominican Republic, from the Dominican Republic to Nicaragua, and from Nicaragua to Honduras.

In relation to the US trying to overthrow [Nicaraguan President] Daniel Ortega, I believe it already did it before, in the 1980s. The US armed Contras here in Honduras to fight against Nicaraguans. Since that time, I have always protested against this US occupation of Honduras to invade Nicaragua. And the people

[today]

voted for the Ortega government. He was elected.

Now, the US has been unable to overthrow him. Now, he is strong. Now Ortega has a lot of popular support. And I don’t think they are able to overthrow him, as they did in the past, from Honduras.

AP: Can you compare your party, Libre, to the Sandinista Movement and what lessons you took from them?

MZ: They are two different historical moments. Sandinismo was developed by a military sergeant, who went to the mountains at the beginning of the 20th century, and he created an anti-imperialist force that created a party called the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). This party won a war, overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, and now organises democratically to stay in power.

We (in Honduras’ Libre Party) are a party that did not come out of the armed struggle. We did not come out of a war. We were born out of a movement that is revolutionary and democratic, but peaceful. Against the coup d’etat. And against those who support the coup. The US supported the coup.

AP: I want to talk about your personal political development because when you were elected you were considered part of a more centre-left party and movement, and now you are speaking about socialism. Why did you change and how would you characterize yourself now?

MZ: Centre-right actually. (Not centre-left.) It has been an evolution. Because the right wing is done for. It sustains itself with weapons, with coups, with fraud, with deceptions.

The future of humanity has to be social. You are a social being. You. Aristotle says that we are rational beings. The human is a rational animal. But we think that the human being, today, is a totally social being. Without society, men and women can’t survive. Everything that we think and perceive is related to our social environment.

So where should humanity walk to? To individualism, to egoism? To individual interests, or social interests? It’s to social interests.

The future of humanity is socialist. We might have to struggle for 10,000 years or more. But in the future, if humanity does not advance to be social, we would be living in caves, according to the survival of the fittest. Human beings are advancing, progressing to become social.

I was raised in a liberal political philosophy. But now I evolved to a new politics: first liberal and pro-socialist, but now democratic socialist.

AP: How were you influenced by other governments of the Pink Tide, specifically Hugo Chavez of Venezuela?

MZ: Well you would have to ask how Chávez, a soldier, became a socialist. If you find this explanation, then you will find an explanation for how I, a land-owner, went from being a capitalist to a socialist. It is a heightening of the spirit. It is the conviction of a human being.

Capitalism is so barbaric. It is not the future of humanity. If capitalism is the future of humanity, humanity is destroyed. It is defeated. It is doomed to fail. The same for the planet.

The future of humanity has to be social. It’s simple. It’s not money. It’s not commerce. It’s not simply economic activities that should lead humanity. No, those should be subject to the social.

It’s fine that private enterprise exists, private initiative. It’s fine that capital exists. But it is not ok for capital to direct the world. No, it is the world that should direct capital. This is an upside-down world.

And when you reach the highest governmental position in a country, which I reached, even in a small nation like Honduras, I learned then that there is no way to deal with capital other than subjecting it to popular sovereignty. Capital should continue to exist, but subjected to a plan of popular sovereignty that is the people.

The voice of the people is the voice of God. You have to have faith.

AP: Like Chávez, you were pursuing the process of a Constituent Assembly in your country the day of the coup, to change the character of the state here. Why do you think that specifically was so threatening to the oligarchy here and the US government?

MZ: The question is not well formulated. Do you know who Thomas Jefferson is? Do you know who George Washington is? They created the United States, with a constitution.

Why mention Chávez? Chávez is simply from the 21st century. Jefferson and Washington were from 1776. The American Revolution was anti-imperialist, against the British Empire. They developed a constitutional assembly. And you have your constitution in the US. It’s not Chávez who invented the constituent assembly; it’s Jefferson and Washington. So why be afraid of the way in which nations are formed?

When the social pact is broken, because there is a lot of poverty, there is a lot of hunger, many people in need, and the majority does not resist the economic and social situation, you have to return to the constituent dialogue. This is basic in a society.

Inside the US, there are no coups. No, there presidents have to be ready in case in any moment they are killed. Here, there are coups. And in these countries in Latin America there have been 170 coups. And the great majority of them were sponsored by the US.

And what do you do when the pact is broken? You start over with a constituent assembly.

AP: When you were facing the coup, Maduro was the Foreign Minister of Venezuela and you worked very closely with him at that time. What did you think about him, what was your impression of Nicolas Maduro, and what do you think about what’s happening now with Venezuela?

MZ: Two things: One, Chávez did not seek me out. Chávez was never going to look for a far-right country like Honduras, almost totally governed by the US. And now more than ever. And me, a president who arrived with the centre-right. Chávez would never have sought me out.

I reached out to Chávez. I have to clarify that. Chávez never had an interest in Honduras. This is an invention of right-wing activists in the US, like Otto Reich, Robert Carmona, and Roger Noriega. I had to convince him [Chávez] to come here to help us, with oil, with the ALBA alliance, with Petrocaribe.

Two: Nicolás Maduro, yes he is a socialist from birth. He is a worker, from the working class, from the class that is exploited by capital, from the class that sells its labour force, and that is denied the rights that capitalists enjoy. He is a socialist, like Chávez.

And moreover, the Bolivarian Revolution, that was initiated by Chávez, with his socialist convictions, was inherited by Nicolás [Maduro]. And he has led with a great capacity, sensibility, and conscience.

They don’t want you to recognize it, but Nicolás [Maduro] is a Latin American leader of great international stature.

AP: We’re 10 years since the coup, since then, one by one other progressive governments have been picked off and changed back into pawns of the United States. What gives you hope that one day we will see progressive governments return to power in Latin America?

MZ: No empire is eternal. With the exception of God eternal. Since the end of World War II, the US has ruled over much of the world. But it has serious contradictions. It is a country with high levels of poverty. There are serious internal contradictions.

And sometime soon, the North American ruling class will learn that to survive in the world, it will have to reduce military spending, to give medicine, healthcare, education and a good quality of life to its people. Someday they are going to understand that being the soldiers of the world, that being the police of the world, does not bring them as many benefits as they think.

And one day they are going to understand that it is better to have democratic countries than military dictatorships. When they come around, let’s hope it’s not too late.

The world is going to applaud, and meanwhile they continue giving fascist and imperialist orders installing dictators in our countries, setting up multinational corporations that exploit our rivers, our seas, our forests, our lands, and our working class. Then they will be pointed at and called practices that do not suit our countries.

I don’t have anything against the North American people. Nor do I have anything against the North American society. I’m an admirer of Lincoln, Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington, of what the US had signified. But I condemn its imperialist practices toward small countries like ours.

Instead of strengthening democracies, it strengthens military dictatorships. And that impoverishes our nation, and immigrants move there. And when immigrants move there, they start to complain.

The original source of this article is The Grayzone.

Copyright © MZ and APThe Grayzone, 2019

Aurelia Arzú

Interviewees: Aurelia Arzú, vice-President of OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: The Tattershall Castle, a boat on the River Thames in London
Date: 25 September 2017
Key Words: OFRANEH; Garífuna people; indigenous peoples; the ‘commons’; ILO Convention 169; human rights defending; criminalisation; land titles; threats; tourism developments; coconut oil; African palm oil.

The interview was conducted on the Tattershall Castle, a boat on the River Thames in London, just before the start of an event entitled ‘Defending Rights Defenders’. Because various items were being set up around us, there were numerous breaks in the interview along with interruptions from other people. The event was organised by the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) and Peace Brigades International (PBI).

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Martin Mowforth (MM): So, Aurelia, to start with can you give us your name, your role in OFRANEH and a short description of what OFRANEH does; and then the problems which the people of OFRANEH face in Honduras.

Aurelia Arzú (AA): Well, good afternoon. My name is Aurelia Arzú; I am from Honduras and I represent the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras, OFRANEH. My role is as vice-president, vice-coordinator of OFRANEH. Well, we are here in this country seeking support.

MM: Welcome.

AA: Because really we need it. Right now OFRANEH is facing many problems as an organisation, of colleagues being driven apart. We are constantly being persecuted because of the simple fact that we are defending what are public goods.

MM: OK, thanks. One moment please ….

Interruption …. new recording

MM: To continue …., can you tell me a little about the battles that the people of OFRANEH face? Is it solely in the coast area or not?

AA: Yes, it’s more specifically there because that’s where the Garífuna communities are. As an organisation there we’re in a difficult struggle because we’re up against various entities – principally the Government of Honduras, the narcotraffickers, and the business community. So as you can see, it’s an unequal struggle because these are monsters, so it’s very unequal.

Why? Because as an organisation we’re fighting for our commons, that is to say, the water, the sea, our lands and our territory. So we have a government which sees whatever it wants to see and which takes advantage of our common goods and doesn’t give us the right to fight against it. If we lodge a claim, we are taken to court. If we protest, we are also taken to court. Right now in Honduras a law has been established to deny us the right to protest.

Also, they’ve created a ‘law of tourism’. It wants to say that when a foreigner arrives in our country they can develop tourism freely on our lands and we have no right to protest, and so they can take us to court. Also, our comrades are being criminalised and they are throwing them into prison and arresting them. The thing is that those of us who live in our country and act as simple defenders [of our commons] face real difficulties because we don’t know when we can carry on with our lives or when we are going to lose it. Also, the organisation has to struggle because our rights have been established. Despite having an agreement, that is [ILO] Convention 169, it’s not complied with by the Government of Honduras. So we don’t know if we are protected as the Convention is not respected for us in that we can’t support the fascist Government and its dictator.

MM: So the Government protects the investors rather than the people of Honduras?

AA: Yes, to such an extent that the Government of Honduras has actually told us that we are not Honduran as Garífuna people, and that it doesn’t recognise us as a people. But yes to the investors it’s opened the door to them all for them to make their investments at our cost. They’ve never consulted us, there’s never been any prior consultation or information. It does things in its own way, giving priority to the investors because what interests it most is the money. It doesn’t matter that it may endanger the rivers or the sea. When they want to make a tourism investment, for example along the beach, we are prohibited from going there. And the Garífuna depend on the sea because we live from it, from fishing and agriculture. Also when we get to various areas in the mountains for instance, they also close the tracks to us. For example, when we get to a particular site, there are already guards there who tell us that we can’t go through. So, they prevent us from moving and close all ways to us whether it’s by sea, by river or through the mountains.

So, the crime then is, as defenders, to protect our commons. And for the simple deed of protecting our commons, we are prosecuted.

MM: And the industries?

AA: Invading.

MM: Yes. Which industries are invading?

AA: The mining industry; extractive projects such as african palm. Did I mention the mining? There are loads of them.

MM: Tourism?

AA: Tourism too.

MM: Do you have an example of where tourism is affecting the rights of the Garífuna?

AA: Yes, we have two bays which have been affected: Tela Bay and the Bay of Trujillo. How has the Bay of Trujillo been affected? In the Bay of Trujillo a dock has been constructed for tourist boats.

MM: Cruise ships?

AA: Yes, cruise ships. They got the people to sell their land without problems and they said they would give us work and that they would be affiliates in partnership with the Garífuna. But when the project was done, we had rights to nothing and so we were certainly affected.

MM: One moment please.

Another interruption … new recording.

AA: So, we’re talking about Trujillo Bay. So there in Trujillo Bay we’ve been enormously persecuted because they’ve cut out our freedom, our freedom of expression, freedom of all our commons. They’ve taken control of every part of the beach, they’ve built new buildings, hotels, a dock and they’ve thrown people off their lands. That’s affected us big time in Trujillo Bay.

MM: And in the case of Tela Bay?

AA: It’s the same in Tela Bay. They are building tourist complexes, Marbella, an enormous tourist complex; giving no chance to the Garífuna; likewise, they take our land and leave us no right to get near to these complexes; and we can’t get near to the beach, we’re not allowed to bathe ourselves, we can’t fish. It’s a form of destroying us as a people.

MM: And have various villages been affected in Tela Bay?

AA: Yes numerous.

MM: Miami?

AA: Yes, there’s Miami, Triunfo de la Cruz, Tornabé, San Juan Tela, Miami, Ensenada, Cienegüita.

MM: We stayed there, in a Garífuna Centre. It was a centre run by the Garífuna in Tornabé.

AA: Ah, in Tornabé? A big centre?

MM: A dormitory of four rooms.

AA: It’s not for the senior citizens, is it?

MM: It was in 2010, 7 years ago. It was very interesting, but we only spent a few days there.

Another interruption … new recording

MM: What about the situation of Madeline [David] right now, because she’s stayed in Honduras because of a court hearing?

AA: I’ll explain it to you. Colleague Madeline, she was going to be the one to come here and to make this trip. Her full name is: Madeline Aurelia David. She couldn’t make the trip because she was being indicted and prosecuted, accused of illegal encroachment on land. Why? Solely for the simple deed of recovering something that is ancestrally ours – these are our lands. So she was prosecuted. By whom? By a foreigner, a Canadian called Randy.

MM: Ah, Jorgenson?

AA: Yes, that’s the surname. What was it?

MM: Jorgenson.

AA: That we didn’t know. [Laughter]

MM: Jorgenson, the King of porn.

Womens voice: King of porn? [Randy Jorgenson made his fortune from the publication of pornographic magazines in Canada.]

MM: But also Patrick Daniel Forseth?

AA: Him too. So we might ask how is it possible that a foreigner can arrive and accuse a Garífuna of taking the land, a Garífuna who is the owner of the land? That’s something unusual that could only happen in my country. That a foreigner can denounce the owner of the land for owning the land. And she is being prosecuted for it – to such an extreme that she can’t go three meters from her home. Because otherwise she would go to jail. Madeline was studying to be a nurse, but she can’t get on with her studies because she can’t leave home. So we have a situation like this where we can’t do anything, and truly we need help. In our country the laws are not going to favour us, the Garífuna and the indigenous peoples. Because they claim that we are not Honduran, so we don’t have any rights. It’s lamentable.

MM: But he says, or the two of them say, Jorgenson and Forseth, the two say that they’ve bought the land officially with their own money. So what’s the response in that case? I don’t believe it, but ….

AA: No for sure. Look, they offer proof that they’ve bought it legally with their own money. When we the Garífuna have ancestral title to the land, that means that the land can’t be sold and can’t be loaned out. But what they’ve bought is a fake, illegally. Because they make use of a Garífuna, the Garífuna can then buy it and then sells it to him. They use a Garífuna to buy the land and then they pass it on in his name. But it’s not legal because we have only one title.

MM: Yes.

AA: So, as you say he bought it legally. He knows that’s a lie. But he’s protected by the laws of my country, so he keeps on saying that he bought them legally. Because he’s protected, because from the moment he can take us to court he is protected by the laws of the country. And he has more rights than we do. And that’s unjust.

MM: In the case of African palm, have the Garífuna lost much territory to the plantations?

AA: A lot. A great deal that these extractive plantations – let me tell you a little about it. It has ruined us, destroyed us morally, physically and economically. Why? We the Garífuna have our own gastronomy [staple diet] – that is to say we have our own typical food and meals. We also do our own processing of coconut oil. Coconut oil.

A woman’s voice: Yes. Oh, you are talking about palm oil.

MM: Yes, but to say ….

AA: Something natural.

MM: To say they have their own gastronomy, their own meals.

AA: Something natural that is very much ours, that we use for our meals, we use it for our hair, and we use it for the body.

Womens voice: It’s very popular here right now. Coconut oil.

AA: And previously it was only the Garífuna who used it, but it spread, and how? When they ….., in industrial medicine. They began to say that coconut oil was harmful to your health, bad for the cholesterol, that it was bad for high blood pressure and for diabetes, and so on. Like they knew that it wasn’t easy to destroy this food, so they began to kill off the coconut palm in Honduras. They began to get a disease called ‘lethal yellowing’ which kills all the coconut palms. But when they began to kill off the palms, they stopped producing. When there was no more coconut oil for the Garífuna people, they began to use African palm oil. And that’s how we began to consume other things.

MM: Yes, why? It’s a different type of oil.

AA: It’s different because it contains chemicals, but the coconut oil that we made is natural.

MM: It is very much a natural product that has been replaced by the African Palm, that it is more chemical oil.

Voice of another woman: Also it is poly-saturated.

MM: OK, another introduction …. [Another person arrived to be introduced to Aurelia.]

Another interruption … new recording.

MM: Another explanation about African Palm. 

AA: So, as a result of having to use industrial oil, that’s really affected us in our organisation because as indigenous people we have our own gastronomy. So they’re forcing us to lose that too, so it’s certainly affected us.

But how has African Palm really affected the people in Honduras? In the first place, it’s taken our land, it’s dried up our rivers, it’s contaminated the rivers with chemicals. The palm has a life duration of forty years, and when it dies off the land isn’t returned to us and it’s no longer fertile – you can’t sow anything there. So those are the ways in which we are affected. Moreover, the processing of the palm, making the oil, involves throwing the waste products into the rivers, leading to fish die-offs.

MM: So, the factory also ….

AA: Yes. They’re in very close proximity to the people, so it’s a danger.

MM: So, thanks very much. There are other examples, but one final question, please? [Laughter] Do you have any suggestions on what we can do in this country, from here, many thousands of kilometres from Honduras? What we can do to help your situation, not only of the Garífuna, but also the others

AA: Yes, for us defenders the same arises. When I speak of the Garífuna, I speak of all the indigenous peoples. So because we’re all in the same situation there is support between us and for all the indigenous; because there are other indigenous peoples too; we’re the Garífuna. And we have seen and we appreciate that with the international role we can achieve something.

MM: We can give you solidarity. Normally I suppose that like others we can exert pressure on the ….

AA: Exert pressure, yes, make alliances, use your networks …

MM: On the industries?

AA: Yes, to make noise most on the cases where we really have problems and where we need help urgently. Because what’s happening with our colleagues is that there are six of them who are being prosecuted in Honduras. So instead of things getting better, they’re getting worse; so it seems to us that it’s going to get much worse, because from the moment that the government empowered Randy [Jorgenson] to prosecute us – well, Randy’s not going to stop, he’s going to carry on; but also we aren’t likely to give up either. He’s going to carry on, so what comes afterwards? We don’t want to know what comes afterwards because we’re seeing that something worse is coming, our prosecution. Because they have the money. We don’t.

MM: Yes.

AA: And when they have money, they buy the authorities – it’s the worst in my country. So it’s chaos for us.

MM: Yes. So Aurelia, very many thanks for your words, your explanations and we’re looking forward to hearing a bit more tonight. Many thanks. Well done with your struggles.

AA: It’s not an easy struggle because everything is against us.

Another interruption … new recording.

AA: We don’t have support. So often we go to international organisations. We can go to the capital to make denunciations, but when we get there they are filed and spend a lot of time without us hearing any response. But the threats are constant; so the replies, the paperwork associated with the denunciations, we have to archive them. But the threats are constant.

MM: We’re sorry that we can’t give you more time, more than five minutes, in the presentation.

AA: We can carry on talking about ….

MM: Good. Thanks.

 

END

 

 

 

Purificación Hernández

At the time of this interview (2009), Martin Mowforth was a member of the CATAPA delegation investigating the problems caused by metal mining in Guatemala. (CATAPA is a movement of volunteers active on the topic of sustainability, focussing on the problems caused by irresponsible mining. It is based in Belgium.) Purificación Hernández from Honduras was an invited guest on the delegation. He represented the Honduran umbrella organisation ASONOG (Association of Non-Governmental Organisations) and in particular their campaign to represent and assist communities in the Siria Valley, badly affected by the Siria Valley gold mines operated by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company.

 

Interviewee:Purificación Hernández (Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (ASONOG)), Honduras, regarding the Honduran General Mining Law
Participants: Martin Mowforth
Location: San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Quezaltenango, Guatemala
Date: 25 July 2009
Context: Visit of a CATAPA delegation to the Marlin Mine, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala.
Key Words: General Law of Mining (Honduras); mining companies; open cast mining; cyanide; Hurricane Mitch aid; Civic Alliance for Democracy.

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Martin Mowforth (MM): We want to know more about the context of the law and its origins. I believe it was created after Hurricane Mitch.

(PH): After Mitch, yes.

MM: So could you tell us something about this and its effects on local communities?

PH: My name is Purificación Hernández. I work as a technician with ASONOG and also I have the job of coordinator of various actions carried out by the Civic Alliance for Democracy which serves as a political space for the struggle against the mining of heavy metals in Honduras.

MM: Can you tell us a bit about the origins of the Honduran General Law of Mining?

PH: The General Law of Mining in Honduras was decreed in 1998. The Law was approved in the National Congress in the middle of November 1998 exactly a month after Hurricane Mitch. There is more than enough proven evidence to suppose and believe that all the aid which Honduras received after Hurricane Mitch from North America (the USA and Canada) was conditioned by these countries as economic aid to help us get out of this natural disaster, but that it was given in exchange for the approval of a Law of Mining which favoured the mining companies.

This was from ten years ago, 1998, and we saw that more than 300 concessions were given to Honduran mines that are still open; there were some companies which are still working and others that were hoping to be able to work due to their politicking in our country so that they might continue working.

The Civic Alliance for Democracy (the political space to which I belong) was struggling against the approval of this decree, but the government wasn’t interested. From this struggle against the Law of Mining we launched an attempt to see which articles of the law were unconstitutional. So we hired a lawyer, Clarisa Vega Venturas. She worked especially on a legal demand to clarify that there were at least eight articles of the Law of Mining which were illegal and which should be repealed. We went through the whole process to get it to the Supreme Court of Justice and on the 4th October 2006 the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice declared that not only eight articles were unconstitutional, but 13 articles in the Law of Mining were in contravention of the constitution of the Republic. And in that way we transferred the struggle from the streets to the Congress. With the support of the struggle in the streets we managed to get these 13 articles to be declared unconstitutional.

Sadly, although that was all very well, the current Law of Mining continues to favour the mining companies. Still now they have to pay only 1% [of their profit account] to the municipalities. They don’t have to present any fund or guarantees for any damages caused by their operations. They don’t have to consult the communities by means of open meetings for their permission or to ask whether they are in favour or not. There are many things which they still do very badly and against which we continue to struggle because we want to repeal this law, because we consider that while the law doesn’t say anything about what this open cast mining produces, it uses cyanide, and we are getting absolutely nowhere because our government doesn’t have the technical or professional or economic capacity to supervise the mining companies.

We believe that the governments of Latin American countries do not have the facility to regulate, to stop or to obligate the mining companies. So we cannot allow them to continue working in our countries.

MM: Thanks.

END

 

 

 

Dr Juan Almendares

Interviewee: Dr Juan Almendares
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: 23rd August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

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Juan Almendares (JA): I’m going to tell you more or less the areas in which I work, both as a person and with organisations, because I work with organisations. We’re associated with the Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families (CPTRT) – the web page is www.cptrt.org . In this we work on the most difficult issue of human rights, that is torture, because in general the army and the police do not want to be accused of it.

The other area in which we work is community work, so we have the Action Committee for Peace (COAPAZ), for which we work in 26 communities, where most of the participants are women from very poor barrios. That movement forms part of the Mother Earth Movement (MMT), which is part of Friends of the Earth International.

At the same time, we have this clinic which is for humanitarian services. We’re not welfare assistants, we work with the grassroots in social organisation. Also we’ve done a lot of work on mines, studies in mines, clinical studies in difficult cases of displacements of campesinos and indigenous peoples, and of police and military brutality.

On a personal level, we write a lot on the environment, human rights, political history, and our activity is very intense.

The question of human rights we see from the human and politico-social perspectives. Personally, I hold an ideological position which is anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, and we are fighting against what can be called the military agro-industrial complex.

We have worked in the area of knowledge and the area of practice. We work in prison, a tough and historic work in the prisons because they are cauldrons of injustice. There’s a team, there are materials, there’s a whole series of things produced. That’s through CPTRT. The CPTRT has a big team of people, thirty people at full time, it’s an institutional work in which we have to follow an institutional mandate. Our central work theme is torture, medical attention and psychological care, but we also make denunciations, do case monitoring, and there’s an interdisciplinary team: lawyers, sociologists, social workers, medics, psychologists and social communicators. At the beginning it had a medical and psychological focus, but now it has a community focus. We are based here but we work in rural communities.

We have two types of work: first, you have to see work with the most violent communities of Tegucigalpa; we are in Nueva Suyapa where we have a really strong programme in the community – we’ve been there for several years. Second, we’ve serviced MUCA (the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán) where there is a social project. We were in almost all the fincas taken by the MUCA. The hardest movement is the problem of how to respond to them – it’s the fundamental campesino problem right now and the riskiest problem. In fact, they nominated us as the representatives of MUCA for the Verification Commission of the Human Rights Committee.

We are also in the SARA Movement – that is the Movement for Food Sovereignty and Agrarian Reform. We are part of that movement which is a campesino movement. It’s a part of Vía Campesina and other organisations. We’re in the Political Commission of the Let’s Go With Grains Campaign in which there are a number of organisations making up an agrarian platform. We’ve also contributed to the organisation of human rights in Honduras, the platform which has promoted the Truth Commission. There are six of these organisations and the work is collective – there’s no one organisation which represents it, rather it’s a uniting of organisations.

In the Centre we have been the object of several attacks. We have had to move and change office, and right now we are in another place, partly because of the rain and also because we’ve had some personal threats. We try to keep a low profile and in the reports we try to be as objective as possible and as close to the truth as possible, with the aims of satisfying the responsibility ethic and of not losing institutional credibility. More or less that is the CPTRT.

As for the Mother Earth Movement, here in 2008 Friends of the Earth organised its world meeting in recognition of the work done by the Mother Earth Movement, and the theme was sovereignty and climate change. It was in Tegucigalpa. There were 800 delegates at that meeting and the organisation was really popular. We did it in the mountains in …???… and women from the barrios did it all. They won an international prize for the work.

We’ve worked on mining for more than ten years and are in contact with the Environmental Committee of the Valle de Siria and we’re also part of the Civic Alliance for Democracy which is another organisation which has protested against mining. The anti-mining protest here has been very strong. At the moment it’s changed a bit because of the coup.

We have also worked against the transgenics. With Monsanto our work is to mobilise marches and participation, to denounce and also to research. Mother Earth is forest, water, a whole series of things, and it’s a campesino issue.

In COAPAZ we have …???… relatives. There’s community social work and in the clinic we use alternative medicine. I’m a medical doctor, a physiologist. I studied in the University of California and in the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve been a professor, a rector, a dean, various things, so we are very absorbed in this. And now with the coup we are very much into the Resistance. We also try to keep a low profile, not for any particular problem, but because of security. We’ve had a lot of threats and attacks.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Have the threats increased since the coup?

JA: Perhaps in some circumstances. What happens is that we are well-known in the country and we have many international links. But, yes, it has happened to us. For example, we had to cancel the telephone for four months, four months without a telephone. They had got into all our systems. For example, at the moment they have tapped my whole system. I’ve lost all my contacts, I’ve changed my email, I’m rather isolated, the telephones I have are tapped. They cut our water for almost a month, and it’s not a question of not paying. They’ve loosed off some shots at us and they’ve threatened all the team. Well, at least I can send what I write which are strong statements against the army and we try to promote the Resistance. But I’m not really on the scene because when I am on the scene I’m in danger because they see me as an ideologue. So we try to keep a relatively low profile.

MM: What’s your analysis of the current situation of the Resistance and the movement to promote the new Constitution?

JA: I think that there’s no doubt that the Resistance is the strongest and most popular political movement in the country. It’s not been easy from below, there have been a lot of repression, threats and assassinations. Not just the leaders have been assassinated, but also their families and relatives. For example I don’t have any contact with my family, and if I do it’s very limited, very short. It’s a very tense situation. But despite that, the Resistance is very strong in rural communities and with the campesinos.

I’ve been involved in the whole process since the Resistance first arose. The Resistance was formed almost the same day as the coup took place, when we were facing the army troops. Under that tension the Resistance was formed by various organisations. It’s a very plural movement that involves all sectors of society; it’s a movement which dialectically engages the coup and helps to unify the people; it’s a positive thing that has come from the coup. The coup gives us many negative things, but the positive side was that it has facilitated the organisation and unity of the people, and not solely those people on the left, but all sectors. So the Resistance was formed as a plural movement which takes a non-violent line.

So it included people of every tendency: Marxists, liberals, even conservatives. There were also the supporters of ex-President Zelaya, people from popular social movements, christian grassroots organisations, the LGBT which is a group which has become acceptable because here there was a terrible discrimination against them because of the prejudices influenced by religion; feminists in resistance, artists in resistance, human rights organisations. There is everywhere a coming together of organisations which managed to constitute a type of front, a front which at the beginning didn’t have a very clear form, but which after a while became well defined. Since the start it has had good leaders, straightforward people who have had more than a year of taking part in marches and protests.

In the process it has pulled down many of the country’s plans: for example, the church hierarchy has been broken by the demonstration of its corruption of the rejection of the Cardinal who is a figurehead who is representative of religious values. The same occurred in the evangelical church which has had leaders who have been strongly in touch with the class struggle – that is to say, the unity of capital with work.

That situation also takes us to broach the media question. The media have had an extraordinary influence on an uneducated people. But come the coup and the people realise who is on their side and who is against them because throughout the whole process we’ve been seeing that the oligarchy is brutal, through the alliance between the oligarchy and the church and the alliance of the oligarchy with the military. All that has brought about a unity amongst the people.

At the beginning there was a lot of excitement. We were opposed to President Zelaya because I was the presidential candidate for the left. At that time, we didn’t think that Zelaya could get to the point where he would take a very progressive stance. So we had differences, but in the process we prepared ourselves for the coup. The Resistance nominated me as delegate to go to the State Department, to take part in dialogue and in September we had a trip of condemnation of the coup.

We’ve been asked: What is the ideological principle of the Resistance? What’s the Resistance’s strategy? What is the future of the Resistance? How are you going to create a National Constituent Assembly?

At the beginning, we only saw police brutality, the use of terror, mass torture. Our information reveals that before the coup there were around three torture victims per month, but immediately after the coup there were 119 torture victims. I’m saying it’s only our information because it has been medically and psychologically certified, based on the Istambul Protocol – that is to say, very rigorously. There has even been torture taking place in the parking lot of the Congress building, in the military grounds, and in various other places.

What I want to say is that the Resistance has formed itself in response to the people, not just because it’s a political crisis but also because it’s a social crisis. There is not only a difference in the traditional political ideas, but also the Resistance is formed as an expression that results from a yawning ideological and political gap which generates a lack of credibility in the church, in the media, in the army, in the police, and in the normal social structures. The Resistance is filling that gap.

The Resistance has its major expression in the urban centres of Honduras, in San Pedro Sula, in various places along the coast, in Tegucigalpa, but it’s not a purely organic issue. But lately it’s been becoming more organic, especially in the barrios. When they repress us in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the Resistance organises demonstrations in the barrios, despite police actions. It’s very difficult for the army to control all the barrios. So there’s a mixture of the traditional values of the people who aren’t so politicised, for example like the people of Nicaragua or El Salvador. But they are a people who have been stigmatised as cowards or lacking values, even as being leftists, …???… But in fact they are a very courageous people. At the moment, the Resistance is perhaps the strongest movement in Latin America. We’re talking in relative terms, but this movement has managed to move a million people.

MM: What are the possibilities of changing the constitution?

JA: With that you have to consider the whole process. First, it’s a process ignored by the political-military apparatus which is radically opposed to it and for which supposedly that is one of the reasons why they kicked out Zelaya. Legally, through the media and through religion they create a filter against a National Constituent Assembly. Now, what possibilities exist? At the moment the coordinator outside of the Resistance is President Zelaya – he is the spirit of the leadership of the National Constituent Assembly.

I believe that we fill the ideological vacuum in the people, but we don’t fill it with an ideology. It’s a process which takes time, resources, training. There’s an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist sentiment, but there isn’t a political development or formation. We need to fill that space but with a leadership to go with the development. People are waiting for ideological and political direction which is happening to some extent, but perhaps not with the necessary speed because of the lack of resources. We have a leadership which has been sacrificed for self-denial, respect and dedication, but we need it [leadership]. The other thing is that we’re talking about mobilisation, and from that comes the debate about whether the Resistance should be a political party or if it should be a broad front. The other question is if the Resistance is a front for the mass of people, of course not fascist, but anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, still we are not there.

I’m not talking in the name of the Resistance, only on a personal basis.

We need to build a peoples’ front because there’s a very important question that refer to the material relations with life. I believe that the material issue is not separate from spirituality. We need to consider that connection with life, of the material, of the cultural and of the spiritual. This means that we need to fill the space which the church has left in all these sectors, because first it seems to me that there is an emotional phase of sympathy, which we can call a honeymoon; but afterwards we have to take concrete actions with which the Resistance may make changes and transformations which the people can see. For example, in your events and propositions you oblige the system to make various changes to satisfy some real necessities that the people have. It seems to me that that is fundamental in the process of construction. For example, we have an agrarian problem which is fundamental in the country and which is unjust to the campesino sector; so the Resistance can support the events or propositions of campesino organisations which are emerging through an agrarian transformation and they can do that in a National Constituent Assembly. This is a mechanism – we don’t see it as a legal mechanism, but as part of a process in which the people take power. That is to say, the people decide not only to build a Constitution but also to transform it. This is a fundamental point.

It seems to me that at the moment we have policies which are all destructive and criminal and that the priority which is emerging is in favour of the private over the public. So it’s necessary for the Resistance to have all these ideas and positions worked out and to take them to the people as ideas and positions for change. We lack that.

The scheme for the Assembly is one of the Resistance’s priorities, but that requires a lot of work, including the theory, the philosophy, the politics, the ideology, to build the transformation of the Constitution, of the system. People haven’t lost their enthusiasm for the Resistance. Yes, we need to build in order to get there, it needs to be worked at, but we lack that at the moment. Remember that we are a country that is militarily occupied by the United States; the whole dynamic of counter-insurgency is very strong here and the army is advised. The whole ideological apparatus of the state and of the international community is trying to present a scenario in which Honduras is a country where there is democracy, where there is dialogue; but on the other hand it’s repressive. In that sense, education is fundamental. I’m talking of education for liberation, not simply formal education. It’s also very important to share experiences and solidarity.

So, the possibilities of a Constituent Assembly you can see them in the dynamics of the situation, because the government could be interested in such an Assembly because it’s such a need felt by the people. But they [the government] are thinking about the Constituent Assembly not to change the representativeness of power but just as a popular demand. We are thinking of changing the whole system to generate a process of change in the country. So the possibilities are difficult, but we haven’t abandoned them – it’s one of the priorities of the Resistance.

MM: In the long term is it feasible for the Resistance to take part in the next elections?

JA: Well with that there are very different positions – there isn’t just one single position within the Resistance. I’ll give you my point of view. I believe that the Resistance must not become an electoral political party because that would weaken the Resistance. The right wants the Resistance to become a political party and to take part in the elections. With that end they are encouraging different sectors to take part in the elections. We must recognise that historically Honduras was a country which didn’t have elections for 18 years. In the 1980s, we began to get elections and there was an almost cultural enthusiasm for them. But the Resistance could lose its major objectives if it turns itself into a political party. From that, the Resistance has to think like a political force, it has to plan strategic objectives and tactics with the aim of bringing about changes and with the aim of allying itself with the Latin American people, but it has to have objectives which go further than a political party.

From another point of view, elections divide and create individual aspirations and fictitious leadership. I believe that in reality the people have to be the drivers of the Resistance rather than a leader. The idea is that there should be a collective direction, not a traditional direction. Now, whether the Resistance can support a political force in an electoral process, that’s another thing. We don’t deny that that possibility exists and I think that it should not abandon any possibility or any space in the political field. Through discussion, the Resistance could support a political force which would compete in the elections, but its objectives must go beyond the elections because historically elections in this country have given rise to distortion, corruption and a whole host of things.

So, what would be the other characteristic of the Resistance? Well, it could be a political force that at this current moment concentrates on the National Constituent Assembly and which through that could develop other characteristics of a political force. In that sense, it could be a broad front, it could be a patriotic front, a force to transform society. Obviously, it has to put itself forward in order to take power – that’s logical – but it’s lacking a lot right now.

In the Resistance there are many political forces which have even taken part in elections and yet they are good colleagues. I’m a supporter of unity, without excluding any strand – the indigenous peoples, black peoples, parties which traditionally have been part of the Resistance, in the democratic unification. Right now I’m not a supporter of any particular sector, rather we are all involved in building a Resistance which has a collective direction and we don’t hide our sympathy with people in other Latin American liberation struggles – we are in solidarity with Cuba, with the people of Venezuela, Ecuador, the whole process in Bolivia – we must protect the Bolivarian process which has a rich philosophical background.

MM: Can you bring me up-to-date with what is happening in the Aguán valley?

JA: In the Aguán valley you have to understand that there’s been a history of land conflict. In the first place, a campesino associative company was founded there. It was called the Associative Company of Small Islands (Empresa Asociativa de Isletas) and was a collective company[ – like a cooperative]. But it was a brow-beaten company because it obliged the campesinos to sell their land. And the right wing demanded that position of the campesinos. They had created a situation of terror and there was a military intervention, assassinations of campesinos – a whole series of things at that time.

But in that zone there were groups of campesinos and also migrants. Some leaders had emigrated from the countryside to the city in the hope of finding an organisation. So there’s a period when the campesinos were selling their lands and Facussé bought them for a price, as they say here “de gallo muerte” [the price of a dead cockerel] – that is to say, extremely cheaply. And he also took over various lands of the state and grew African palm on them. Now obviously we are against agrifuels [biofuels]. Now, we must ask ourselves how a campesino movement arose and seized force during the period of the coup. It has to be with very brave and organised people to be able to take control in such a fixed way that they managed to recover land.

There is a group, Guadelupe Carney, a historic group, which has been in various places close to the Aguán for years. It’s the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), which is a number of organisations, sectors and families who have organised themselves to reclaim their land, to survive or die. The movement reached its climax during the coup d’état. A situation of tension was created there, near Nicaragua and the Caribbean. It was a zone of military testing, heavily militarised, and before there was a battalion there. Now it’s near a North American military base. In the midst of all that MUCA developed. MUCA’s aim is to occupy lands belonging to Miguel Facussé, René Morales and Reinaldo Canales who are the big landowners with thousands of millions of dollars. Moreover, the World Bank is developing there the cultivation of agrifuels (biofuels) as recommended by the [US] Embassy. It’s a project which was not originally associated with the campesinos, but what we have to take into account is that the campesinos have occupied land that is already cultivated with African palm. That’s the crucial point – they don’t know anything about African palm, but they occupied relatively large areas of land.

Faced with the production of African palm, they had two possible situations: not to buy it, but then they don’t process the palm, not in sufficient quantities. So Facussé created his own army. We have to see that here the private army is a major force. We are talking of more than 60,000 armed men, larger than the Honduran army. That’s not just what he has in the Aguán, but this figure is made up of all the private forces in the country. There are hitmen in a very tense situation. It’s not just Facussé, I’m referring to all the private guards in the country. Here we are watched by the army, by the Pentagon, by private guards and by hitmen.

So the conflict develops there and the danger is such that a civil war could develop. There have been many deaths. They manage to tell the government, “We are not going to let you enter here.” They negotiate, they sign an agreement in which they have to deliver lands, they demand health services, education and housing, because it’s an abandoned zone. Those people live in houses of plastic, at high risk and in danger of flooding. At times they are very heterogeneous groups, with a history of struggle, and they have great strength.

Then there are contradictions in the system because the landowning oligarchy is radically strong. The government is from the right and was participating in the process, but the oligarchy is the most radical force there, more radical than the government. Well, these forces, the oligarchy, don’t want to let the campesinos get a hold. But they have gained a very big political space and the threat of the army’s massacres are there. When we go to these barrios/colonias there’s a lot of tension because we have accepted an extremely delicate mission – the struggle against the ultra-right wing.

So I’m not sure how it is going to turn out. There is still conflict which isn’t resolved. The land problem is still ongoing, and still it has not been delivered to the campesinos. But that is just an appendix to the campesino problem which goes beyond MUCA. It’s the community of Guadalupe Carney which has been beaten down. They are the campesinos from other regions of the country where there is no agrarian reform. Here the law of agricultural modernisation rules, and that destroys agrarian reform. That’s a part of modernity, of capitalism. I’ve written about 15 articles on the campesino problem.

END

Gerson Suazo

Interviewee: Gerson Suazo
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Central Square, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date:
11 September 2015
Theme:
Key Words:protests | government corruption | CICIH (International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras) | Hunger strike
Notes:For background information on Los Indignados please see http://enca.org.uk/the-fights-continue/ where you will find a blog entry by James Watson on his time spent with the Indignados protests in Tegucigalpa.
Note: ‘Los Indignados’ may be variously translated, but is probably best and most commonly understood as ‘The Outraged’.

Martin Mowforth (MM): I am going to begin. So, everything is ready, I am recording. So if you want to, only if you want, can you give me your name? [Please note that not all the hunger strikers and members of Los Indignados would wish to give their names due to the likelihood of threats and persecution if their identities are known by the government. Outside the encampment of Los Indignados in the Central Square of Tegucigalpa there is normally a group of plain clothed government officials taking note of who enters and leaves the encampment.]

Gerson Suazo (GS): My name is Gerson Suazo. I am from the department of Santa Bárbara. I have already been here in Tegucicalpa for 15 days. I was involved in the first strike around the Pesidential Palace. We’ve maintained a huge struggle in order to be able to find a solution, a solution to the political, economic and social crisis that now, well, is causing us a lot of problems in our country. This is a momentous struggle to get the president Don Orlando to put in place the CICIHHH the International Commission against Impunity in Honduras, enforced by the United Nations. So, we have been subjected to these problems, social problems, in which all of the sectors of society are involved. There are so many problems of landowners, so many problems, of officials who are involved in a lot of corruption; that all sectors of society have come to us to launch a big struggle, to incorporate everybody in our country.

In fact, from the land, its recuperation, the care of the environment. We are making this struggle so that it can flourish again – really, the culture of our country. In truth they have implanted a sub culture in which, they have made sure, they have erased the identity of with the people and all of the sectors. So the struggle has been going for several months now – it began with mobilisations, which now have become very big, which has been accompanied by different types of protest, such as taking control of roads, occupying government buildings. And a hunger strike which is taking place here in the Central Park. In truth, this represents ordinary citizens who do not belong to any organisation, nor any political party, who are wanting to see a change in our country.

To be able to live with dignity and that everyone’s rights are respected, we are at the limits of our country Honduras.

This is a very big fight that we have taken on. Unfortunately we have not had any response from our President. So that he heeds the call and the demands that our people are making. So then, the president is taking underhand actions, wanting to create a CICIH but one that is imposed by him. It’s more commonly known by the Honduran people as CHICHI, they say the CHICHI, because it is a lie, thus it is a farce, what he is doing. And this is what he wishes to create, a system of interaction of Hondurans to fight corruption. But directly what the people ask of him is, if he wants to combat corruption, then it should be with the international commission set up by the UN. The truth is that this is what the people want, and it is the only demand that the people are making. Because the people trust that this is the tool which allows them to investigate cases and take away immunity from people who really should be paying. True? How all the people have paid through a lack of the laws. So there we wish to see them in prison. Unfortunately they have ‘prosecuted’, in inverted commas, people like Elena Gutiérrez, Mario Celaya, who are directly implicated with what has happened and what they have done has angered the Honduran people, that was what they took from the social security. So, they are directly enjoying their liberty – right? They make it appear that they are prisoners, but they put them inside barracks where they are not really confined. They can leave and go directly to their homes and there isn’t any real security keeping them behind bars. So this is what the people want to have, to actually solve in part, true? But the people are willing to continue fighting, to carry on, demonstrating in all areas, all types of pressure to be able to make direct changes. To be able to change the system in this Honduran society. So, we really want a change, more profound change. We trust that we have the tool, but we’re going beyond that, ok? No, we will stay here, even if it’s the start of a fight, which has actually already started but we’ll take it further.

MM: OK, many thanks for that. Certainly you have brought me up-to-date a little. But, at this moment here in this small area, where we are, what are your plans for the future?

GS: Well, what we are doing right now here is raising awareness of the people who, most of all, are not involved in what is the social struggle, the fight for the freedom of our country. Therefore, we are directly here to be able to break this indifference that is instilled in us, that disillusionment that is put into us and that has been filtering through to the people. That splits or drives actions which generate division within the Honduran society. So we are here to demonstrate that we can unite and we can do big things because the intention is to unite all of the Honduran people; without distinction or political allegiance, without distinction of race and without many things which might restrict us in becoming united. We wish to break this individualism which has been imposed to unite the whole society. Because we know that the government is the party of government, the national party, but within its militants there are normal everyday people who aren’t in line with the way the country is governed. So we also want to involve these people so that they demonstrate and are able to unite everyone. Because in solidarity is strength and it is only in this way that we are going to be able to change this. So, this more than anything else is like an epicentre to unite the people, to unite all sectors and, to unite that indifference, to eliminate that which really puts us on different sides. So the intention is a general awareness so that we can continue forward hand in hand.

MM: Yes, OK.

GS: All, all to follow the same path which is to liberate our country.

MM: Good. And is it your intention to stay here?

GS:  Well, we have already been here a month. Within that, we have been rotating people, because there are others who have been going to the doctors, because of the state of their health. They’ve have already done 50 days, but during that time there have been other people coming to support. It has been a great achievement in itself – the people can see because this is a well transited place. The Central Square is the heart of Honduras. So, people have been able to see that this little plot continues to be maintained and that this will not cease until it achieves what the people want. That is, finish with the corruption and truly live in dignity for all. The 8 million Hondurans.

MM: Yes, yes, that is it. Many many thanks. And, eh, and can you let me have your name again.

GS: Yes, Gerson Suazo.

MM: Excuse me, Gerson Suazo. So, perfect, many thanks.

END OF 1st RECORDING

INDIGNADOS II – SECOND RECORDING

GS: So, this is what we have been doing here, and we have managed to make many people come together, people who have never been involved, including those who came and gave their experience. By chance a man approached me and he said that that he had never been interested in politics, he had never been interested in taking to the streets, and none of that. But he saw a part of the messages we have on our signs, which drew his attention, and now he is involved, he comes more frequently, and he has never participated in anything before, in politics, not in any group from the left, in absolutely nothing – he has been nothing more than a citizen who hasn’t cared about the situation of others. And now, seeing this type of action, carried out by a group of people who also want the same, who are demonstrating their discontent with what is happening in our society. So, he was able to take that example and now he is incorporating himself, just like others who have involved themselves.. Right now, we are hoping that more young people will come from other sectors, to add themselves to the strike, the camp of the Indignados. So we are here to make a big noise – the intention is that that big noise of the people of Honduras may always be maintained..

MM: And say hello to James.

GS: Yes, James, a very good friend. Greetings to James – the last time that we were talking – he is a very good person. And so greetings, greetings for James.

MM: Yes, I’m really pleased about his experience here.

GS: Yes, it was very good because he had the opportunity ……

MM: Yes, yes, for him too.

GS: He had the opportunity to live with us and through what is happening in this country.

MM: Yes. So, perfect. Many, many thanks.

Campamento Environmentalist Movement

Interviewees: (from left in photo)  Elvín Maldonado, María-José Bonilla, and Juan Granados – All members of the Camamento Environmentalist Movement (CAM)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Campamento, Olancho, Honduras
Date: Wed. 20th August 2010
Theme: Deforestation in Olancho, Honduras; threats to defenders of the forests
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Could you give me an explanation of the difference between CAM and MAC, and your relationship with MAO and the region?

Juan Granados: We are the Campamento Environmental Movement. We had an alliance with the Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO) and with other organisations like the Catacamas Environmental Movement (MAC). I said that we had an alliance because it has not been maintained due to differences between the previous managers. They did not have the ability to manage some internal situations within the different movements. It created a small rivalry between the leaders and there was therefore a slight distance between them. But the new Board of Directors is trying to make new alliances with these other organisations, especially with Olancho, and if it’s possible, with organisations outside of Olancho, from other places at a national level, and also an international level if possible. We want to have an alliance with all of the organisations that are not environmental, such as organisations representing coffee producers, and with organisations of the same civil society that are on the list of organisations that there are in our municipality and in the country.

MM: Could you give me an idea of CAM’s mission?

Juan: Inclusive of what we have written. We are a civil society organisation. With our values and principles we advocate policy and peaceful resistance to defend natural resources and human rights. This is CAM’s mission.

MM: What are the problems in Campamento and around the town?

Juan: We have found that the biggest problems have been created through the economic interests of the people that take advantage of the natural resources, especially the forest. So, this was one of the issues that motivated us to found these organisations, like CAM.

MM: When was CAM founded?

Juan: Our organisation was founded in 2002. The other communities had already begun, although empirically and without support. They tried to look after the natural resources, especially the forest. The other communities have been fighting to defend natural resources for some 15 years. Owing to the merciless felling of the forests, we saw ourselves obligated to found an organisation to defend the natural resources and the peoples’ rights, because at the same time as the massive exploitation of the natural resources, the rights of the people that live in the local communities are being violated.  It was because of this that we decided to organise an environmental movement.

The MAO already existed, under the direction of father Andrés Tamayo.  As we indicated, we supported each other. Equally, we also received support from the Catholic church and from all of the other communities. With Andrés Tamayo, we marched from Olancho to Tegucigalpa, we walked and we were there on the trail for 6 and 8 days – we ate on the street. We did three marches for the life and the natural resources, in defence of the environment. So this was how we started off running CAM and later we continued, taking into account that we wanted to run an organisation that protects and defends natural resources and the human rights of the most displaced classes.

MM: And apart from the problem of the forests, do you have any other programmes? For example, recycling or waste treatment programmes?

Juan: We still do not have these types of programmes, because we don’t have the economic capacity nor the management to have projects like these that would have any benefit – because they would minimise the environmental impact of pollution, for example, in the basins, micro-basins and the environment in general. But we do have a vision to implement all types of mitigation to diminish the environmental pollution, so we are trying to make alliances with different organisations to see if we can all push in the same direction. We are trying to make alliances with local authorities. We are counterparts in projects, but with some limitations because we do not have money nor economic support. We are trying to see how we can make these contacts with other organisations. With some NGO’s that want to support us, we have a personal capacity to be able to manage projects in different communities, including at the level of Olancho. We are in a better position because we have complete freedom to do these types of projects in communities.

MM: Where do most of the organisations funds come from?

Juan: Some small projects generate some income which goes towards the continuing development of the environmental movement. Previously, we also had support from the (missing word) fund, but now we are making contacts again to see if we can continue with projects that we hope will be supported. Because the truth is that we are experiencing an institutional economic crisis, because we don’t have money for the upkeep of the office or goods for the organisation. We sometimes face important limitations. So we are going to see where we can find support, making some formalities and some contacts.

MM: In terms of ENCA, we are disposed to receive proposals for financing, but only in small quantities. I can receive them through ENCA’s email, but I alone cannot decide. It depends on ENCA’s committee. We have three meetings per year, every four months more or less. I already mentioned the human rights problems. Are there problems in terms of the abuse of human rights as a result of your work with CAM?

Juan: We have identified that some people in some places, in some communities, including here, within the same urban town, are found without the necessary public services, e.g. they don’t have the necessary diet, a dignified living space, they don’t have a job, or their income is very low, not enough to support their family. So I view these cases as not having the same rights as other people. We have seen that there is too great a difference between the social classes and things seem to be very unfair. When there is some support for the communities, especially the municipalities, it almost never reaches the people. Sometimes help is given to those who have less need, to those who have more necessities to be able to survive, and not to the most humble people. So you see how the rights of people to receive support and to have benefits are overridden by others who receive support even though they don’t need it as much.

Sometimes we see in the countryside that there are people that disrespect their property, they interfere with their properties, they extract resources, for example in this case of the forests, so the problems continue.  They continue drying up water sources, then the temperatures increase as a product of global warming and all of these things, so we see it as an insult to the rights of the people.  However, we are working on this with the people, raising their awareness and their skills so that they can understand some of the laws that grant them rights, such as the new environmental law.  We are also trying to see how we can communicate the Water Law with the communities, because this is also a right that they have and in some cases it is being pushed aside.  The formulation of the Water Law is trying to have influence and it has had influence, but it has not been understood by the people, and we want it to be.

Because of this, we are not very strong because everything moves through economics.  We have the staff and the necessary equipment but we don´t have the resources to mobilise these things.

María-José Bonilla (MB): Recently I brought in support from CAM, I am the administration.  There are already three victims dead, I think that this is a violation of human rights.  Last May it was José Alberto.  So they are found in these areas … but … and it is never seen, and nobody realises that most people can be exploited while … This law is very complicated, the authorities find themselves very limited, because the maderenos are … so to touch the system is … it would be threatening against the people that protest against them and this is a fight they want to win, but it is a little difficult.

MM: Is there evidence of a relationship between the maderenos and drug-traffickers?

Juan: We cannot be sure, but they have acquired too much power, I feel, because whichever crime by whoever the strongest group may be is not enough for them to be arrested, or the damage that they are doing to this country controlled.  As my colleague said, there have been many deaths, and this leaves a lot of evidence that they are people that are accustomed to these types of crimes.  When these types of crimes are seen to be committed by people who are involved in the struggle, it is believed that they could be a type of vehicle between the people involved in drug-trafficking and the timber companies.  Because they react when their interests are threatened, and their operation is like this, violent, murders and stuff. This is the struggle that we have, in a few years already there are thirteen martyrs who died for the defence of natural resources.  And before, there were others like Carlos Luna, Jeannette Kawas, Carlos Escaleras, and others.  We have recorded some thirteen environmentalists murdered in our struggle and this is only in the Olancho area.

This is a dangerous place to lead the fight.  When we attempt to touch these big, powerful interests, there is a huge difficulty because this is where the vast differences exist, and it seems that those that manage the laws always try to make things flexible in favour of the most powerful, which violates the rights of the majority, of the poor.

MM: This question is maybe a little reckless or rude, and if you do not want to answer then that is fine.  What is the relationship between the current government and the resistance?

Juan: Well, the truth is that we feel that many of the governmental decisions, both nationally and locally, are not very beneficial to the large majority.  I have said to you before that in these struggles of reform there have been some attempts from leaders to reform some Constitutional laws.  I feel that it has not been as beneficial to them, so they try to supress, to uncover the people and to top it all they do it in a violent way.  For us, the civil society, what happened in our country has been a coup d´état.  We do not agree with the coup because it brings us many problems, there have also been many deaths during the resistances struggle to defend the interests of the large majority, many leaders have died.  We do not agree with the acts of the authorities in this respect.

MB: CAM as an organisation, in terms of political questions, cannot … because the majority of the organisations members … because it is not possible for us to be environmentalists and we are not supporting the political parties nor the right-wing …. But as people, there are many of us on the directors board that are great leaders of the resistance and have supported the marches and everything.  Also there have been many violations of human rights, and because of this we cannot be in favour of whoever caused them.  The mission of a person that is an environmentalist …

MM: Do you want to add anything more about the development of this area or the problems that you have as an environmental NGO?

CAM’s lawyer, Elvín Maldonado enters the room.

Juan: Our aim is that they take into account the opinions of the large majority of the communities, that they are able to participate in large discussions, because our problem is that, because I don´t know whether in other countries they allow these things, but in our country, the poor people, from the countryside, are not allowed to participate nor make decisions in big national decisions.  We see that we are excluded in the decision making by companies, important politicians and millionaires.  We feel that they are people that are not going to make decisions that will be in favour of the large majorities.  Sometimes they make decisions that favour us, but without the participation of the poor people, the lower class people.

We want the possibility of being taken into account by the leaders of the civil society, by organisations, because we have very civilised and well organised communities, but we don´t have the economic solvency to be able to work with more force or with more demonstrations.

We often have limitations, because we have to give money from our pockets to be able to mobilise ourselves, to buy fuel, to maintain some things, so we have these difficulties.  If support existed from other organisations that took the same line or had the same values as us, we would like to participate with them and create a network with these organisations.  So when we have problems in the future, that is to say, the vision would be different, it would not be the same as ours is now.  It seems a good idea to me, and from what you have told us I think that if we are in agreement with what we both want, then we would like to stay in contact to see what you can do for us, and what we can do for you.  We have the freedom but with this freedom we run the risk of losing our lives, because there has already been proof of many deaths.  We are not bullet-proof, we are exposed, we do not walk around armed.  We do not favour the powerful and important people in this country, in fact the opposite is true, so when we begin this type of struggle, generally it is the leader that risks the most.  Rather, we think that if we had protection, so that we could have a little more security it would make a big difference, because we struggle as we do.  When you or any other organisation representative wants to come to visit us, we will open our doors and be available to meet them and to support them.

Elvín Maldonado (EM): … part of your job is to complete these types of works, but as we forget in these countries, according to the mayors, the local governments have limitations.  To us these opportunities come, and we are making the most of them.  We informed the Forest Law, the wildlife and protected areas laws were passed some time before.  We actively participated in this movement.  Most recently, we also informed the Water Law, and they have passed the law already. We need the internal rules, we need, as an organisation, to read and understand this law so that the Honduran town can know what this law means, because at present in Honduras there is an escalation in the sale of water sources, and privatisation.  There is a boom in clean energy, but this will come to an end, or, it seems that this kind law will create small hydroelectric plants to sell us energy, but these are agreements for 30 or 50 years.  Then will come the privatisation of water.  I believe that now is a crucial time for us, we need the help of organisations, because we have much to do here but few resources.

We thank you for your visit, we hope that it will not be the last time that we see you.  We are here with open doors, you only have to call us and we will help you to see how we live, what we have done and what there is still to do.  In terms of the environment there are barbarous actions that have to be taken and we are going to do what we can with our economic limitations.  We need a range of contributions to help us, we are weak organisations, this we know and we will give you information to see what we can do.  We thank you for coming all the way from London.  We have already met with journalists from England, more people have come here.  The truth is that we only receive judgement from the United States, this is what dominates here.  The other day we were sent an email, which informed us that the State Department is giving the green light to the Senate, I don´t know to who, to give economic help to the timber companies in Honduras.  This means felling of the forests.  We dislike the double-speak, because on one hand they tell us that they will protect us, and on the other hand, they say that they will fell the forest.  We are powerless in this respect, we have nothing more to defend ourselves than the little that we have here, but maybe we will end up crushing them.  So we need international alliances, who are turned on enough to help us, because maybe their things are stronger.

Juan: This is the 90 year old woman who walked to Tegucigalpa three times. Doña Catalina.

EM: We have run walks of 240 km in protest.

(Interview cut short by failure of battery in recorder.)

END

COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras)

Interviewees: COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: COPINH’s office, La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras
Date: 23rd September 2015
Theme:
Key Words:peaceful resistance; indigenous rights; transnational companies; community radio; ILO Convention 169; Lenca people; CONATEL; repression; impunity; National Institute for Agrarian Reform.

 

Martin Mowforth (MM): Yes, it’s recording. Good, first, Marleny, what are your surnames?

Marleny Reyes Castillo (MRC): Reyes Castillo

MM: OK. So, Marleny, you are the coordinator of COPINH, one of the coordinators, is that correct?

MRC: The general coordinator is our colleague, Berta Caceres

MM: OK, and yourself?

MRC: I’m part of COPINH, a facilitator of COPINH.

MM: OK, and Selvín Milla also? You’re in charge of communications?

SM: Of course; in charge of communication and above all operations: organising security for the communities, in which right now there is a struggle and great risk. So we need – well, we aren’t trained 100 per cent but at least we have a basic protection strategy. Also radio training — a much needed alternative communication method. We train ourselves to use them, coordinating the 5 radios we have to tell everyone what’s happening and for training. Well, it’s not much; and we’re also working with young people with regard to training them on the protection of our surroundings and environment. And still, above all we’re working with women. As they say, without women, there is no revolution. So we’re with them right now.

MM: Yes, I was going to ask Marleny about protection for women. Can you tell me what you told me a few minutes ago about project ‘Focal’?

MRC: Well, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to speak; and especially for the solidarity between countries needing to know what COPINH is, what it’s doing and why it’s operating.

COPINH carries out several activities: opposition, training and public education for the indigenous communities. Amongst these is a project of facilitators, facilitating these processes particularly for women, directed especially at the communities. Where they can learn the methods of protection that COPINH offer, for example the [ILO] Convention 169, which they have to own. But in this, COPINH’s objective is to reduce risk, insecurity, intra-family violence, economic violence, sexual violence and the endless violence within these communities. This is the ultimate goal for COPINH, that this decreases, that it can’t keep happening – these women [in the communities] are the ones who are saying it – it’s they who denounce it and who have to act against this situation that they live with every day. Because COPINH is an anti-patriarchal organisation, without religion or politics. It has certain policies for popular education and training but not legal politics. So this project for the protection and for indigenous rights defenders of the indigenous people in the towns of Intibucá and La Paz is directed at different communities where COPINH has a presence and where women need help. At times, but not necessarily, you have to be in living in these communities but also they look out for you; COPINH is for everyone and we all fit in together.

So COPINH exists for this, to develop a process of education and training for women, where they get to know first-hand patriarchal domination – how to exclude themselves from this domination which has existed for years against women, this domination which exists because women haven’t had a voice. They’ve, well they’ve been cut off, they’ve been subjected to this situation because they haven’t been allowed out of the kitchen. Silent, blind and without power to confront the situation they live in. This then, is the work of COPINH – that these same women, when they enter the process, they break the ice. They know who’s with them, who’s there to protect them. COPINH can have an impact in protecting them, both through training, education and creating tools, and also by finding organisations to protect them. Because here it’s unbelievable the violence that’s imposed. This country, this country’s own government recognises the statistics of how many rapes occur, how many murders of women there are. That is statistically – but they don’t investigate anything: who did it or who organised it. And although, like COPINH, they file the complaint, these are filed away, they don’t follow it up and it goes unpunished. COPINH makes the denouncements and does this work, because we hope to achieve a reduction in risk, insecurity and women’s deaths. Above all, the protection of women’s territory, protection of Lenca territory, and if it’s possible then it can have the goal of national coverage. As we said before, COPINH is in more than 200 communities: it has a huge territory.

MM: All in Intibuca?

MRC: In Intibucá, Lempira and La Paz – all the Lenca people, and further still COPINH has a presence at national level. And if these women need COPINH to intervene to protect them, to reduce the insecurity and the risk, then COPINH is there. The same way they are now in Cortés.

MM: Ah yes? There too?

MRC: There are already women from Cortés included in the protection process. And from the moment they organise themselves – because the basic tool to be able to defend yourself, to protect yourself and realise your rights is to organise yourself. Then they enter COPINH and begin to train themselves. And when they enter this training, they quickly identify themselves as rights defenders. From the beginning they know that a person, a woman, a man, a child, the elderly, all defend a right, personally, collectively or in an organised way. This person then becomes a champion of indigenous rights.

MM: OK, many thanks for the explanation. And would you like to explain something about your radio system? About radio communication.

SM: I already said radio is an alternative form of communication. In total there are 5 broadcasters operating at the moment. We have 4 FM stations, and 1 AM that is a modulating frequency. We began broadcasting by radio out of necessity to communicate with the people, to understand what is happening. As we said before, the communications media in this country has been controlled by a dominant government system. In the end we said to ourselves, the worst thing is that it was very difficult to get a media outlet.

It took us a lot of effort to get this means of communication, and after so much struggle we began transmitting the first radio broadcasts. Of course, this had already been started before under another radio programme that was played in a paid slot, a very expensive slot. And the public only had that to listen to, the only communication which promoted struggle. After this we began to look for events to broadcast. We began putting radios in the places where there had been the struggle was greatest so the people would know what was happening, and also those who did the communicating. Then the risk began; threats came because it was said that we were against the system, perhaps, and well …

MM: Is it a licensed system? By the government?

SM: Yes. The result after all this was that the government, over time, began a governmental network called CONATEL. CONATEL began to suppress media outlets trying to eliminate them, because they said they were pirate channels, or community radios. Then we were talked about by some international convention, Convention 170 of the ILO [International Labour Organisation]. Then we began to push back: the media has to be free come-what-may – it’s a human right. Then they began to look for alternative methods, emitting another signal on the same frequency to try and eliminate us. We knew about the options, so we just changed frequency each time they messed with us. When the public knew most of the frequencies, we began to transmit a loud noise so they knew that we were moving to another frequency.

All this went on and a new fight began to expand our outlets. Finally, we found an AM frequency that had a strong signal, but we had to work even harder. After a time, we began transmitting this signal. The people began listening to it more on the borders, further afield, then they began to know more about the organisation and that motivated us even more. So much organisation, and at last we now have 204 communities with us. Eh, the effort it takes to maintain connected communities, and much more between – there aren’t basic resources to begin buying transmitters or recycle the bad ones. Then we have to ask ourselves where –  where needs a radio? In the beginning we said one here, where the office already is. Then we were emitting two frequencies: FM and AM along two channels. They interrupted the FM signal most because that was the easier than the AM. As soon as they interrupted the FM, we announced the swap to AM and changed straight away, so the public could change and continue listening.

This went on and then another struggle began in order to extend our means of communication at the end of which we got the AM frequency with a much stronger signal, but it meant we had to work harder. Well, after so much time broadcasting on that signal people began to listen to us more on the border, further away; and so they began to get to know our organisation better and to motivate us even more. The whole organisation, up to now, has 204 communities with us. We have to put in a huge effort to stay connected to these communities, and we’re missing even more because we don’t have the minimum economic resources to continue buying transmitters or to repair those that have broken down.

So, where are they, where do we need the radio? At the start we had one here where the office is. Then we said we were going to broadcast in the two frequencies, FM and AM. The FM frequency was interrupted more because it’s easier to interrupt than the AM. So they began to interrupt our FM signals; then we said we were changing to the AM frequency, and immediately people changed so that they could continue to listen to us.

Quite a time passed, and then we saw that Lempira needed a radio transmitter. We carried another transmitter that was also put in the same name, La Guenpica (?), and then we began to transmit from there. The people began supporting us even more because they had a media outlet and now they knew the truth of things. And well, after all this, they say there’s a remote mountain where there are indigenous people, where they are marginalised, where they have nothing, no education, no healthcare – they have absolutely nothing – they’re a really distant people. As an organisation we will go to work with them, working with them before establishing a media outlet, fighting because they made themselves an independent municipality. This was achieved after a lot of struggle, a lot of movement, a lot of protest, even a hunger strike. After that they installed a media outlet called Puca Hupalaca. After that they continued the struggle and saw another need, most recently – it’s a radio station called Radio Gualcate. It’s in Río Blanco and Tibuca and is one of the most recent FM stations – our fourth. There we’ve had transmission problems: the transmitter is small and the frequency is a little short, and well, we’ve had some difficulties.

Now everything is OK; despite all the problems, people are still following radio and are looking to protect and cement this radio communication from all attacks. Because it’s not just the media outlets that are attacked, but the people working within them: sometimes having to move all broadcasts for the day to a more secure location and make anonymous transmissions. Not having the Internet – that would make it simple to tell the people what’s happening abroad; having journalists and no one knowing who they are. These are the circumstances in which we have to operate. There you have it, this is a little of the alternative media we have on air, thanks to the public, thanks to their efforts, nothing more. It’s a little…

MM: Sure, but it’s important. Thanks to you both, and it’s Sara, right?

MRC: She’s our colleague, Liliam.

MM: Ah, Liliam. Thanks for talking and for having me. Thanks for all you’ve said, and we hope we work together a little more in the future – especially with James present.

Second recording (COPINH 2)

MRC: Against governmental impunity for the deaths of our colleagues who have fallen fighting to defend their territory, to defend the river; and against the arrival and international threat of the big companies; they died because they’ve defended their way of life, they’ve defended their territory, the river, and especially those that have defended control of the territory of the indigenous lands in the communities. Especially Río Blanco; Río Blanco has been one the communities to suffer the most violence. Thanks to the international companies, the government, so many have fallen and they don’t care. Although COPINH has collected lots of information on those cases that eventually come to light – who killed them? Who did it? They know the truth. These companies have a lot to answer for. These companies here …

MM: What’s the name of the company?

MRC: (?) In Río Blanco, it’s DESA.

MM: DESA?

MRC: Sinohydro.

MM: Ah, Sinohydro, yes.

MRC: They endangered the dignity and the stability of our colleagues in Río Blanco. Women have also suffered greatly: threats, psychological pressure and their lands having been taken from them. Now they’re there again. And they continue to threaten, to prolong an environment of intimidation, of threats and oppression against the people of Río Blanco.

MM: This is a Chinese company, right? But I thought I’d heard Sinohydro had failed, that the project had failed. Is there another company? Is that right?

Liliam (L): Yes, it was abandoned in the construction phase. But now about three months ago, another has come in through Santa Bárbara. This is something that’s going to affect part of Río Gualcal, because they’ve been felling to get the water there. So they’re always endangering the same indigenous communities of Río Blanco and Río Gualcal.

MM: OK.

MRC: The conditions in the area of Rio Blanco – they’re bad due to the risk and the insecurity of the locals. COPINH has done so much, lots of work, and they’re our colleagues there, so this is a major worry in the fact of the threat of these companies coming in. They’ve come back again, more repressive, more militarized; there’s even more repression than there was before. For us that is a very serious and difficult situation faced with what might be to come and what might happen in Río Blanco.

MM: Yes.

MRC: We’ve also had deaths of our colleagues who have defended their land, who wanted to have and protect a plot of land just in order to subsist. So they’ve peacefully resisted. This is the case in Somolagua, Santa Bárbara. In Somolagua, Santa Bárbara, a land struggle has begun because another group of people from outside the struggle wanted to take possession of our comrades’ lands. So there’s a small group there doing a lot, issuing threats, and we’ve had the death of one comrade resulting from this situation. He died a short while ago simply fighting to retake his land. And the death of our comrade Moíses, he died defending his lands. And now the action is stronger because the intimidation is even greater. The Secretary of the National Congress, Mario Pérez, is there; this man has been directing actions against the people, actions against Berta [Cáceres]. Lots of repression, with lots of aggression against our colleagues simply for defending their lands – because it’s a universal right, to have land to be able to survive. So, …

MM: I imagine he wants to own the land?

MRC: Not him, or rather there’s a situation where he has a great deal of power, being Secretary of the National Congress. This gives him power relating to the indigenous peoples, but the only weapon they [indigenous peoples] have is our organisation, COPINH, and Convention 169. This is the power they use to come here, in their wish to take our comrades’ lands and kill them, intimidate them, and to send in the soldiers.

MM: I imagine he’s a hated figure?

MRC: Of course, it’s abuse of power. And here’s another case of impunity. Enter the Government: there are a lot of cases where they’ve oppressed and weakened the struggle. Although COPINH hasn’t been weakened. But it’s a great worry that our comrades are falling in defence of their lands, wanting to protect their environment, their common holdings, their natural resources too. They just want to defend their land. And this resistance spurs on the military repression from the Government. It directly threatens our colleague, Berta [Cáceres].

MM: Yes, of course.

MRC: Because our position is the direct defence of our people, and also to ensure they’re respected and are not continually repressed or killed as they are now.

MM: Yes, of course. Tell me about the importance and the need for your programmes and your SOCA project. It’s very important.

SM: Yes, it’s very important. Firstly, it facilitates our production of material and also the resources required. Although it’s only a bit, it helps us a lot. The detail is in the time that passes, upon doing this work we’re undertaking.

Marleny already spoke about all the killings, the impunity, and this goes on. It’s a struggle which never ends; well, it’s very difficult to bring it to an end. The people here won’t give up, come-what-may, despite the fact they kill more of our friends – it only infuriates people more. In the case of Río Blanco, it seems that people had heard that the company came here from other countries and were annoyed about it. And it started again – all over again. Today they started a committee here, the General Coordinating Body in Rio Blanco and Intibucá, doing more training with the people. Well, they had said this week that the Government was going to suspend the military support for the company. It’s not happened, there are more soldiers than before, more armed security guards; and they’ve already started making roads without asking the community. They want to divert the river, and the people don’t want that. The people have a right to control the territory and so they’ve held them up. Their milpas [corn fields] are going to be damaged – their river is sacred to them because that’s where their spirits live, where everything lives. For us it could be a myth perhaps, but for them it means defending their way of life and it doesn’t matter whether it’s with their own life. Yesterday we stayed the night in Somalagua, a place in Santa Bárbara where the land has recovered. A new landowner came along – these landowners take possession of the land – so as COPINH is the only organisation in the country, it doesn’t matter if the landowners have arms, we go in all the same. We make the effort because the people won’t give in, come what-may. And so we go in, and afterwards we’re all threatened. If she’s the first to enter, they put her in prison, and they know how it goes: here they kill people. They kill people because they know they’re indigenous – three times exploited. It’s racism, it’s based on class, and well also …

MM: Also because of their gender?

L: Yes, because they’re women.

SM:  It’s also because they’re women. Then after all this struggle, not only in Bocallán, where these days they’ve been fighting. For example, tomorrow we’re going to Santa Elena, La Paz, there’s another hydroelectric project there financed by Congress…

L: Deputy Gladis Aurora López.

SM: Gladis Aurora López is a Deputy in the National Congress and a [Ministerial] Secretary, right?

L: Vice President of Congress.

SM: Vice President of Congress. Because she thinks she has money, because she thinks that the people are indigenous, and because she thinks that killing people is a game. She’s killed to build a hydroelectric dam no matter whether the people want it or not – and those that don’t want it she kills.

We’ll keep up the resistance as long as necessary, and tomorrow we’re going to carry on another check-up. Because on the riverbank there are recovered areas, areas where people have gone to stop them building the hydroelectric plant along the riverbanks. These are the efforts people are making every day.

More threats, in a place called la Dica del Pira (?). It’s threatened now with a military base, an opal mine, a rare precious rock. And also they want to build a hydroelectric dam – and they are trying to do so now; they already have permissions, and people have already been evicted, with everything. They began from a place you need a car to find, although people resisted: they walked for a full day to try and kick out the machines. So although the people do everything to resist, they are threatened every day, many in a place called Robuca, San Francisco or near where we have the radio. Now here is one of the most threatened places of all because it’s where the people put up the most resistance. More resistance, more oppression. And so, on the other side of the river we have other places of resistance which they’re using the chainsaw on: here is another place with a lot of involvement from the people. And now we’re waiting for them to arrive, the people are prepared, to fight back against this coup. There are still more places where they’re working and where resistance is more difficult. But the struggles continue in all the communities, but what concerns us most is that they’re killing more people. More killings, and more denunciations, but no response. Not one of them is in prison, not one, they say: tomorrow we’ll catch them. They don’t pay us any attention solely because we’re indigenous; they think this, right? They can do whatever they want to us, they can even kill us. And most of us are threatened. Perhaps today you see three of us; perhaps after the night you’ll only see one or two of us. Any of us could die and nobody cares.

Well no more. And does the world ask itself? I suppose sometimes; no one knows; the world doesn’t know who dies anymore. They only think of the city, where they write about if the child of a millionaire is killed; but killing anyone poor? That’s not important. And because of this we’re stereotyped by what we what we have in this country, well San Pedro, and it’s so sad. They kill less in the capital and in San Pedro than they do here. But only the indigenous, that’s how it is. And COPINH is one of the few organisations that have survived against all these attacks. We’ve survived because people like you have come, something I give thanks for every day, because you come but you also follow-up. You know it right? At least COPINH exists there. We’re going to offer resistance for our Mother Earth, since we the indigenous people have such love of nature, our Pacha Mama. Because we know that we have only this: we’re all in this boat travelling together. We have a saying that ‘the earth doesn’t need me, I’m the one that needs the earth’, therefore, I love it every day. I will fight from dawn ’til dusk for her, and if I should wake up and survive, well surviving for her doesn’t matter. And one of the types of training we give so that people can survive is that we do not train militarily, nor do we have arms, or anything like that. But what we train people in are methods of protection, how to hide, how to survive, how to know when you can go up to look out. Also we train them to know how to protect things, and how to at least protect our Mother Earth. We tell ourselves: when they kill us, we enter into the earth and from there our blood from the struggle will germinate to give even more support to our people. That is our saying, it’s not that of the hydroelectric companies; they chase the money and give little thought for what they exploit. No matter what they call us: stupid, guerrillas, troublemakers, that we don’t have training, or that we’re narrow-minded and oppose progress. For us, progress isn’t their economic development. For us, our progress is that the river runs, that it flows naturally and that we can support the river we have there. [Laughs], but that is our version of development, ours is that the indigenous people can continue as they are, because they lack for nothing. They don’t need anything, not even a mobile phone. They don’t lack anything between then. They don’t need anything because they live in peace. Ever since the arrival of the great civilisation, or the ‘progress’ of I don’t know what – for me it’s a step backwards. But come what may we’ll carry on fighting, keep searching for those community bonds in order to strengthen their groups and ensure they’re respected. Now it’s more difficult than ever, but there’s an organisation of the state that …

MM: What’s it called?

SM: INA [National Institute for Agrarian Reform]

MM: INA. Ah yes, INA.

SM: For me, our way of seeing as indigenous people is that we are just employees for the State where they spend money without it doing anything. Here there’s been many a year where they don’t give us anything, they don’t do anything, months go by with nothing happening. They don’t have anything to say in the whole valley, or it doesn’t matter to them what happens in the communities. Because they don’t live here, they don’t give a damn about it. Apart from that, what they mainly do is repress us, and come in to check our papers and telling us how much better it would be for the indigenous people to leave because there are fights you just can’t win. But the people aren’t disheartened, they come out of it more motivated. We say that we’re at least going to fight back. We live there all the time, and we spend all our time there. And because of this we have our communications outlets – I speak on the radio for instance. I’m one of those ….; we come and go, we spend time in people’s houses so that they aren’t detained or arrested. It’s a difficult situation and not at all easy to keep it up. To carry on – but this is life, right? It’s great you’ve come, because it gives us more to shout about. Although our voice is small here, it has reached the other side of the world – a part of the world I don’t [laughs].

MRC: Also as COPINH, it’s important to recognise that the strongest threat in Honduras, right now this year and especially from the beginning of August, is in the conclave of San Pedro Sula. The 12th and 13th, that’s when the international companies come in.

MM: Yes.

MRC: They come for the buying and selling of our land. That is one of the greatest threats for us the indigenous peoples. It’s because of this we’re organising ourselves in peaceful resistance, to stop these huge companies. Because the government is selling our lands to them. It’s offering it to the big transnationals. Faced with the entrance and threat of these big companies, the mass education directed towards the communities is even more vital to COPINH. Our people have to be awake, well informed about what’s happening. The people won’t allow them to take our lands, rivers, and resources – not for a second. They come to explore, with the only objective being economic ambition because they want to extract our greatest national resources, an absolute fortune, whilst our people remain in poverty. The only riches that we have as indigenous peoples are our lands; and that’s why we oppose them. Because the Government, President Don Juan Orlando Hernández, is offering any of our lands as business collateral.

MM: Yes, so many concessions for the hydroelectric companies, and the mining companies also.

MRC: Of course, it’s this we’re against.

MM: This is one of the main themes of this book. And the problems that are caused by the transnational corporations. In every chapter we describe the problems caused by these intrusions into all Central American countries. I have them right now in Honduras, due to the sale of land for …

MRC: Yes, they’ve taken almost everything.

MM: Yes, OK. Thank you very much.

MRC: You too.

MM: Many thanks to you all.

END

 

Dina Meza

Interviewee: Dina Meza
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Tegucigalpa
Date: 22nd May 2017
Key Words: human rights; rights defenders; environmental defenders; journalism; media censorship; precautionary measures; freedom of expression

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Martin Mowforth (MM): OK, interview with Dina Meza, in Tegucigualpa, Monday 22 May, regarding the threats to defenders of human rights, environmental rights, land rights and social rights in Honduras. Dina, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to move from the personal situation which affects you to the national and international situation in Honduras. So my first question is: can you describe your own current situation of security and insecurity in Honduras? In terms of your work and your daily life.

Dina Meza (DM): Well, I’ve been involved since 1989 in the activities associated with the defence of human rights through the exercise of journalism. And I think that we can consider the situation from after I returned from England in 2013 – as I returned, what happened and what has happened after that time.

Well, I arrived back in the country and in the first few months there was no problem. But then the threats began again, there was an attempted kidnapping. I had to move house again, and there were threats to my children and the situation was worsening.

From that time in 2013 to the present I’ve moved house three times, the vehicles of our families have been vandalised, we have to have armed guards at the entrance to the house. Then the President ordered an investigation into my personal case and the case of other human rights defenders. And yet he [the President] put in place a list of those whose private life would be investigated and who would be tracked. That was information that came to me from a source in the Casa Presidencial. And then we published it because I considered that it was very dangerous to be on that black list, and logically the tracking began almost immediately after I was told that this information existed. Then we had constant …. well, our vehicle tyres were damaged; at various times I couldn’t communicate by telephone. It left me completely isolated and also there was, and there still is, a lot of intervention on the phone.

I’m currently accompanied by Peace Brigades International. After going to England, they have accompanied me since May 2014. Compared with how it was before going to England, the threats now are more subtle. But they are always there. In a country with such impunity we have this type of thing on normal days, and more so when you’re involved in ultra-dangerous activities such as journalism and the defence of human rights.

The threats have kept coming constantly. Peace Brigades International has done an analysis and has produced communications on these threats. Also we’ve had to refer to the international authorities. Last year I went to Madrid and Barcelona. We were in a forum regarding the issue of women rights defenders and the things they were confronted with.

Already this year, less than a month ago, I was threatened in a bus. I was travelling in a bus because of a shortage of cash, and a man sat beside me and said to me that he was heavily armed and that at the back of the bus were more armed men who had been ordered to kill me, but that I should remain calm. So I said, “why do they want to kill me? What’s the problem?” Then he said. “No, the order is there, we can’t ignore it.” The man made as if he had received a telephone call, saying that he was wrong, that he had been wrong, and that I didn’t have blue eyes. But he never saw my eyes. Then he was threatening me the whole route, and I was becoming convinced, because after his supposed call, which was a lie, he told me he had to take a photograph. I said to him: “You can’t take a photo of me because it doesn’t make sense for you to take a photo of me.” We were talking like this over the whole route. In reality, God gave me a lot of strength to remain calm, and finally I said to him, “Look, I have to get off here,” and I got off at a stop. Then I shook his hand and wished him many blessings and that God would bless him on that day, and I got off the bus. The problem is that when I got off, I said to myself that it was all over. But I went and took refuge in a pharmacy, and when I left it, I saw four men standing on a corner. Then I said to myself that yes, this was certainly [a threat]. [Nervous laugh.] Then a vehicle was stationed opposite the pharmacy with flashing lights and darkened windows – like the police vehicles. And so I called Peace Brigades International for them to come and rescue me from the pharmacy and that they should get there by taxi so that I can get out of the situation I was in.

So that was less than a month ago. That situation put me outside the protection mechanism that we have in the country. So three weeks have passed since I resorted to the mechanism. They offered me a panic button, they offered me an escort, police and military; they offered me all the military possibilities, except investigation. And also a risk assessment to find the origins of the threats. So far, after three weeks, I haven’t had any contact with the protection mechanism. The panic button, for use just in emergencies, they haven’t given me; they haven’t done a risk assessment. And here we are hoping that the State of Honduras will take action.

The same thing happened with the previous threats. I was making denunciations to the Public Ministry, and they never made any investigation, and they lost my case notes. They disappeared mysteriously and they’ve never done anything.

So that implies that the threats are not de-activated, but simply the same things will continue and get worse.

MM: Yes.

DM: That’s what happened in the case of Berta Cáceres who had made 33 denunciations. And the State never did anything. Afterwards they washed their hands of the matter, saying that she had moved and had not notified them of where she had moved to.

But that is the State that we have, a State in total impunity, and which does nothing and that offers no protection to human rights defenders.

So the situation that we have is one in which we have threats against me, or there’s tracking of my older children, or we’re being watched, or there’s telephone tapping, mainly of my elder daughter.

MM:Yes.

DM:I think that this is already a major technique, to make differentiated attacks on the human rights defenders, to attack not just us, but also our sons and daughters, so that we get into a period of destabilisation, so that we abandon our work.

I’ve had to change my security completely and to take other measures. I don’t go on the bus any longer, I’ve had to look for Support to cover at least a few months of transport by taxis and other means of transport.

MM:Yes

DM:So, such is the situation. They want to intimidate us whilst they intensify the human rights violations. This electoral year, like the previous electoral year when I spoke to you in 2013. The situation is going to be super-complicated as we are already seeing. After yesterday there is now an opposition alliance to the Juan Orlando Hernández regime.

MM:Yes.

DM:So as of now, the war is on. There’s going to be masses of attacks, not just by the media, but also physically and all kinds of things against people who are within the political opposition, journalists who aren’t following the President’s agenda, and who aren’t with his re-election. And things of that style.

So we’re in a crisis situation greater than we had in 2013, because this man wants to stay in power, he’s happy with it, and we’ve no idea how many years he wants to stay ensconced in the Casa Presidencial. So that’s the current situation.

MM:OK. As far as the black list goes, who are the creators of the list? Is it governmental?

DM:Yes, it’s governmental. According to what my source told me, it cameo ut of what they call the Crisis Room which means that it came from the President to the Crisis Room as work that remains to be done. And it’s been like that since the 1980s – right? On the back of the coup d’état, various lists emerged – there were lists of defenders, I was on a list as a journalist, I think there were students of journalism and other students at the university who were involved in social protest who had been criminalised. So, we were around ten people – no, I was accredited, given that I wasn’t able to reveal the source. So what they were doing was indirectly sending me threatening messages telling me that if I didn’t tell them the source they could make a charge against me or something like that.

So I told then, “Charge me – that’s no problem. Because we have what’s called ‘protection of the source’.” So I couldn’t say who gave me the list or anything about the source, and nor could anyone oblige me or prosecute me for that.

MM:OK. This is a bit of a diversion from the topic, but what do you think of the chances of the Alliance in November? [This refers to the newly formed Alliance of opposition parties in Honduras, and to the forthcoming elections in November.]

Both laughing.

DM:It’s pretty complicated because there’s a culture of rubbishing any alliances which form, whether they are good or bad. But it’s good that there’s an alliance against the current President. If there were transparent elections, I think that the Alliance would win.

MM:Yes?

DM:But he’s not going to have transparent elections, and what’s more the electoral system is the same – there haven’t been any modifications. Obviously it’s in the hands of the current President to change the results. As it was in 2013.

MM:Yes.

DM:So I don’t see a lot of hope from this point of view. But I think that the people with these ideas could produce a worthwhile alliance of this type.

I’m told that in the communities people are cool about the public arrival of the Alliance. And we fully understand that as it gets going there is going to be a lot of repression because they’ll use the political activism of the National Party. There are ultra-violent sectors amongst them who threaten and kill people – ultra-violent. Apart from that we have para-militarism in the country that can be used and we can say that perhaps those involved in narco-trafficking and organised crime and similar activities can also be deployed. These were the false positives used in Colombia that have also been established here in Honduras. So, I think it [the Alliance] is a good exercise for the electorate, or so it seems to me. But I don’t see much hope in terms of change.

MM:OK. Las computadoras para las elecciones ¿son por el control del Gobierno?

DM:Si. El Tribunal Supremo Electoral

MM:¿Un organismo independiente?

DM:Well, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal was supposedly restructured – previously it was known as the National Tribunal of Elections, and then it became the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The objective [of this change] was that it would be an independent organisation; and that the magistrates who were nominated to it would not belong to any political party, only that they would be honourable people and that they would be honest. The problem is that all those who are there actually respond to political parties, or simply that they’ve changed the name of their party affiliation which no longer functions. So it’s very normal that when you’re counting votes and the other people are winning, it’s not him who’s in control – the light goes and various situations occur. It happened to me in 2000, in 1998 Presidential elections and I was covering them. They were moving all the team before the end of the count. It was drawn to my attention and I began to document it. I was working in a media corporation, and I got all the information with photos and everything, and when I wrote my piece the editors called me in – the boss and his chief editor. They sat me down and told me, “your piece isn’t going to go through.”

“Why not?” I said to them.

“Because what you’ve written is false.”

So I said to them, “I’ve got photos which support me, and here I can show you.”

But they said to me, “Look, your note is not going to go through because the Director has said that it’s not going through.”

So, they have these ways of controlling what happens. Until there’s a restructuring, a radical change of the political electoral system in the country, there aren’t going to be transparent elections.

MM:Yes. A structural change?

DM:Yes, clearly.

MM:OK.¿And can the situation be helped by international observation?

DM:Yes, assistance, it seems to me that it’s vital. I posed this in 2015, in London, when we met with Peace Brigades International (PBI) and a group of other organisations to set up an urgent and multi-disciplinary human rights observation mission, right? To defend us we need lawyers, defenders, journalists to come to the country. It seems to me that it’s vital, and in this electoral context it’s super-important. Well, in 2013 it helped a lot, despite the fact that yes there was fraud, but it neutralised situations of threats and risks against defenders, largely those outside of Tegucigalpa and who had no support, like the more direct support that we had in the cities. I think it’s vital that we take up that issue again.

MM:OK. Y tú tienes medidas de precaución de la Comisión Inter-Americana de Derechos Humanos? ¿O no?

DM:Well, I must confess to you that publicly I always say that I have these measures. But currently they’re not operational and the Inter-American Commission doesn’t activate them. So, for the moment I don’t have them. But publicly I always say I have them in order to neutralise whatever situation may arise.

MM:OK. But in reality they don’t serve the purpose of precaution.

DM:The truth of the matter is that yes, sure, the Inter-American Commission has granted the measures, but the state of Honduras doesn’t implement them and doesn’t comply.

Back in 2007, I had a police escort because I was in another organisation where they killed a lawyer who was on my team. So I used to go around with two armed police agents, and it was an unpleasant situation. It stigmatised me personally, in my barrio the neighbours would see me as a delinquent because the police arrived and began shouting my name and everything with a megaphone. So it stigmatised me in the neighbourhood. And yet they never investigated the threats. So, although it’s right that the precautionary measures are worth it, but I think there must be some follow-up. As regards what the Inter-American Court is doing with its sentencing, I think the Inter-American Commission must make the time to check those countries which are not complying with the measures.

MM:And can you say something about the situation of freedom of expression and freedom of information in Honduras? And perhaps the situation of the owners of the communications media? Specifically I’m thinking and wondering about the possibility of publishing all your articles – are they edited, cancelled or prohibited? 

DM:There are different situations as far as freedom of expression and information goes.

As regards freedom of expression there are various levels. One: is the crimes against journalists and communication workers. Around 66 have been murdered since the coup. There have been only four sentences of supposed material authors. But there have been no investigations that link journalistic work the crimes that occur against them; neither has there been any prosecution of the intellectual authors.

Secondly, also there are direct threats and indirect threats sending messages by telephone, saying you’d better keep quiet, shut your mouth, that what happened to such and such a journalist will happen to you, and they mention a particular assassinated journalist.

Also, there are incursions into the communications media, with unknown men, armed, turning up and issuing threats.

Also, programmes are censored, and there are programme closures – by order of the government. They call the media and threaten them that they’ll close down the media, or they’ll close down a particular programme. There have been various programme close-downs.

Another is that there are threats to publish information. There are lawsuits for defamation and slander. Two journalists are already under sentence for this. One, Julio Ernesto Alvarado, has one year and four months of prison and the suspension of the right to exercise journalism for the same period. And we’re supporting him as an organisation, because after I came back from England, a group of people and I created the Association for Democracy and Human Rights. You’ll find it at pasosdeanimagrande.com which is a journal that we’re running and also we’re providing legal accompaniment for people with scarce resources who are the object of libel and defamation lawsuits.

So with PEN International we managed to raise the case of Julio Ernesto Alvarado with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and we are pursuing the case. We managed to get the sentence suspended and the Inter-American Commission would study the admissibility of the case or not, and it’s still at that point.

So we’ll see what the Inter-American Commission says – we’ve been presenting the case since 2015 and we still haven’t had a reply – it’s a really delayed process.

But last year in August, another journalist, Ariel Davicente, covering the south of the country, was convicted. He denounced some irregularities of a police chief who was committing abuses of authority, and that he was involved in illegal activities. The police chief contested it, and so he was sentenced by a court to three years in prison, with suspension of the practice of journalism for the same three years, and having to pay all the costs of the judgement. Moreover, the police chief is going to open a civil case so that he can get, supposedly, compensation for the moral damages which he has been caused. Currently the case is under study by the Supreme Court of Justice which has to make a pronouncement through the Sentencing Court. So if the Court confirms this resolution, our colleague is going to go to prison, will be suspended from journalism and will have to pay all that money. So that’s a bit of Julio Ernesto Alvarado’s case – we’re supporting him and also presenting his case to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

MM:But did you say that the journalist is out of the country?

DM:No. This journalist is in the south of the country.

MM:OK.

DM:He’s continuing to practice his journalism. He’s one of the critical journalists of the southern zone. And both of the two who are critics have defamation and libel cases against them. Their cases represent one form of closure.

The other form of closing down is with the information sources. They don’t let anybody – I, for instance, can’t get to the Casa Presidencial, nor to the National Congress, because all they have to do is read my name and there’s no way I can be there. So they require your accreditations, they ask for loads of things, and that’s just to verify your identity. But they close down the sources too.

And another thing is that the carrot-and-stick are used with government publicity. At the moment all the funds destined for publicity are focussed on the Casa Presidencial. Initially that was being managed by the President’s brother, but now it’s managed by another person. But for sure the focus of publicity is associated with control of the journalists. We can say that a journalist who doesn’t stick to the government’s agenda, simply isn’t given a contract or a permit.

So, those are the ways of controlling the press.

And on the other hand …..

MM:[Inaudible)

DM:Yes, and also laws have been made to limit the access to information. We have a very good law, the law of access to public information. But it’s blocked by the official secrets law. They created this law to encrypt information for 25 years – 5, 10, 15, 25 years, at the discretion of the government officials. Or maybe somebody can tell you that this information could affect national security and therefore cannot be made public. So this law also restricts our work, as well as that of the rest of society too.

So those are the ways in which our work is restricted. Moreover, there are many campaigns to stigmatize us. The President tells journalists that we are not on his agenda, that we are inflammatory, that we get in the way of development and that we foment campaigns against the government each time we go to events like the periodic universal examination of the United Nations Human Rights Council – when we go to speak on what is happening, and also when we go to the Inter-American Commission. And all these campaigns of stigmatisation, what they aim to do is generate hatred against us.

And they’ve also created some reforms which limit the freedom of expression. Among these are reforms to the Penal Code. In article 3.35 where it talks of what can be taken as an apology for terrorism, and apology for hatred, and that journalists are responsible for that and that we can be taken to court for it.

Likewise, those who make use of social protest are also criminalised. And they included another clause for the financiers. In other words, what they want is to let no one support the civil society that is doing Human Rights defense with funds so that we can carry out the work. That way generates terror in the financiers so that they no longer finance us – in Nicaraguan style with, with Daniel Ortega who some years ago [closed?] an organisation taking its documents – well, it was a disaster. And that’s exactly what is being applied here.

And well, they also talk of the crime of usurpation [illegal expropriation] which now carries a greater penalty than previously, similar to defamation and libel the penalties for which have also risen.

And with that the students of the National University make use of the right to protest; and the crime of usurpation didn’t hit them last year in 2015 – it didn’t work. So now they’ve added a little clause to the article that says: ‘take public buildings other than your house’. They put in that little bit, because we said: there can be no usurpation if they study in the university. In other words, they do not have the purpose of appropriating the university, but simply making use of freedom of expression through social protest.

So those are some of the things that are happening.

MM:Is there any evidence that social media is managing to get round these obstacles?

DM:Yes, of course because the communications media are controlled by the government.

They have their accords, they have an agreement so that the publishers who have debts for electricity or water can swap them for the right to publish.

So they have a law for that too.

MM:Yes, but I’m thinking of the possibility that the protests, those protesting, can use social media to get round these obstacles put there by the government.

DM:Yes, clearly. There are already cases of people who have used Facebook who have been had proceedings started against them. There’s a young person who posted a Facebook message repeating information from one of the media that said that a bank was going to close because of money laundering. Well he was caught, the police turned up and arrested him for having written that on Facebook.

Another journalist in the central zone of the country commented on his Facebook page that a bridge was very expensive and that it was the most expensive bridge he had ever seen. The mayoress took him to court but we managed to nullify the lawsuit because the mayoress was using public money to defend herself as her lawyer in this case was the municipality lawyer when it was in fact a private case.

So they’re making small or great steps as regards criminalizing the use of social networks. And they’re calling them cyber crimes. Here the social networks aren’t very active.

MM:Yes.

DM:It may be immediately that there is some repression, an attack, or whatever may be against a human right, there it is. So, although for sure the corporate media are closing down your spaces, even so, through the social networks, everybody knows about it.

MM:OK.

DM:What you were asking about the concentration of media ownership, this continues. The State of Honduras committed itself to democratise the radio communications spectrum, but it hasn’t done it.

In 2012, or 2013, it distributed the frequencies, but the majority of these frequencies they gave to political activists of the two traditional parties, to activists of the current party in government. And they closed the spaces of social organisations to which they denied frequencies citing a load of obstacles which they created. So they didn’t allocate frequencies and the few that they did give out were to some indigenous groups and some communities that were under real stress. They presented administrative hurdles, red tape associated with the National Telecommunications Commission, they implemented power cuts, they ruined the equipment, there were calls to CONATEL to explain why, for example, it was blocking other frequencies and doing things like that.

So there are indirect means of censorship which they are using, apart from the other more direct threats.

MM:Yes. One final question please. Do you have any suggestions for people, activists, of the supposedly first world – in England? For example, how can we help you more than in the past; in the future, can we help in any better ways? Are there various measures that we can take, various things that we can do?

DM:Good, in the European Union we met with a delegate from Europe and asked him why they continue giving money that is used for repression. He said, “no, no, no, we won’t deal with that because it’s already decided that the money will be given to the government – and ta ta ta.”

I think that if you close down that valve, the valve that is the money requested for the protection of human rights, if you close that opening because of non-compliance, then that is a big step.

MM:Yes.

DM:Because it must be monitored, it must have field investigation to see what’s happening – and not just to receive government reports, but they must also talk with the victims, they must verify the indicators to ensure their certainty.

On the other hand, I think that it’s important that the directives of the European Union put these into effect. In Honduras we have had an Ambassador who has made good use of the directives. In my case, which I’ve raised, it’s worked well – although others have complained.

But I think that complying with the EU directives must be more profound – at the level of those countries which give funds for education, for human rights – that must be controlled. Because the opposite is its use for the purchase of more instruments of repression, like rockets, like vehicles for firing tear gas, more personnel for surveillance. And all these elements intensify the militarism which is what we experience in this situation.

On the other hand, I think it’s really important start proceedings against or to make investigations into the actions of the Public Ministry. In the case of Berta Cáceres, they’re not letting anyone see the case notes, they aren’t giving access to these notes to the family nor to the lawyers, and so we don’t know how the situation is going. As for journalists, I’ve asked for information and what they say is that the Public Ministry law doesn’t allow the imparting of that information. When we ask we’re just given general information which isn’t going to affect any case.

So they hide under this cloak, to keep cases locked away, doing nothing about them. Why? At times they say they don’t have the fuel, or they don’t have a vehicle, so they can’t move. But there are cases which don’t need that, all they need is the political will to take action, that’s all.

I think that the Judicial Power is functioning in the same way as the Supreme Court of Justice, in that it acts at the speed of light to criminalise defenders, but shelves the cases which are presented by defenders for the investigation of the perpetrators.

So I think that the powers of the state – the Legislature, which approves damaging laws – no? – gives concessions for natural resources such as the rivers – that brings more violence. It pays no respect to the informed consultations with the populations. It makes concessions for mining, open-cast mining, which is responsible for a great deal of environmental contamination and has repercussions in the communities, even displacing them.

So, all that is what we have to face in this situation.

MM:Dina, very many thanks for your words, for your time. I’m sure that you have a lot to do after your journey to El Salvador, so I’m very grateful to you for your time. Very many thanks.

DM:Yes, thanks to you too. ENCA has been a good accomplice to me in this project. We’ve set up an office and we’ve started an online newspaper – pasosdeanimalesgrande.com – and we accompany people who have no or few resources; thanks to the support that you have provided to us.

 

Alfredo López

Interviewee: Alfredo López
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth, Amy Haworth Johns, Rachael Wright and Lucy Goodman
Location: Triunfo de la Cruz, Faluma Bimetu radio station
Date: 16 August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Translation by Karis McLaughlin. Please note that ‘…’ denotes that the recording at this point was indecipherable.

.

Alfredo López (AL): This radio station was burnt down on the 6th January [2010] and the campaign was launched. Dominic and his organisation [ENCA] took part in the campaign, and on the 6th February we re-launched the radio station on air. This booth was burned, number two, booth number one as well, where we are broadcasting from now.

People came from the United States, Canada, England. We worked for three weeks. We launched a new radio network, of Mesoamerica, with participation from Guatemala and Honduras. It was in this community, Triunfo de la Cruz. Also, for the first time Radio La Voz participated from Zacate Grande, which is an island where there is now a radio … in the south, right next to El Salvador. That is where the problem is with a man named Miguel Facussé, a problem that we also have here … He wants to destroy the radio, but we are fighting together. We are very poor, so we have to unite to fight together.

… ongoing attacks on the radio … and that is why the research on the radio station fire … we suspect that it was the same authority as that which burnt down the radio station. Because we do not intend to say anything, we are silent. That is why now … a lawyer for the networks, of the World Association of Radios (Asociación Mundial de Radios, AMAR) … the 25 we are waiting for the visit of the attorneys, because we believe that the radio station fire cannot be left like this. We are thinking about really putting on the pressure here so that … for us we will press charges, an appeal to the Court …

This is specifically the case … there is something very important that we are doing now … in Honduras to be able to make a proposal … for community radio. It is not to change the law, but so that the law has a … because the Honduran radio spectrum is owned and belongs to the oligarchy – Facussé, Ferrari, Callejas – but now we want to democratise … that is the work that we are doing as pioneers of alternative communication … was the first. Sure, there are other local radio stations … but they are of a social-commercial nature, we are … we have been on air for more than 15 years, so that … a lot of work. But now, as we are part of the National Front of Resistance, we have convinced them, because they too have realised that communication is power, so they are willing to work with us.

We are in the cities, the slums, we are doing … because they also want their community radio stations. Until now we had a lot of radios stations in the rural areas, but now there is a big demand in urban zones, the areas … and now we are arriving, we are nationalising the idea and it is taking some force.

Here also in Triunfo de la Cruz there is a claim against the State of Honduras in which we have to work a lot … in the international courts, in the Inter-American Commission. Much of that work … is coordinated by us and it is us who is dealing with the documents and having meetings with the State … space with great force and many people are waiting on what we are … the case of Triunfo is … that is why we are working hard. And there are another three cases. This is the case of the community of San Juan, which is … Cayos Cochinos is another case that we have for the violation of human rights and … Punta Piedra where we also have a communication project. So these are the cases that we have …

We here, the situation is … we are in a proposal for recovering our land which … takes us in front of the authorities accused of seizing our land, but the lands … so they accuse me of stealing the land, which supposedly they … for now there are many, but some do not walk …

They are politicians, they have the power and money. The last problem we had was precisely with a politician, a former deputy. About three weeks ago I came … meeting centre, in a place that …. I did not expect it to be so serious, I went, and I went alone …. I went to the carrera because he did not expect that … as 12 people were demolishing a house, burning … it was not my home, I went, at the entrance, I said … and they demolished the house … huts … he said he would file a complaint with the police, I went with the police, the police did not want … the ex-deputy was Don Antonio Fuentes Fosas, friend of …

Now we are building …

Before the coup we were doing … the campaign that we did, the police came to pay us aP1000686 visit to threaten us … We have never had visits from the police, even though we worked … because we have Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation which protects us … its own communication, always, and when we do not go to the city … before the coup, after when the campaign begun … broadcasting Radio Globo, when Radio Globo was closed … a month later the fire happened, that is why we are very suspicious of authority …

Martin Mowforth (MM): Radio Globo was closed?

AL: Yes. Radio Globo continued broadcasting only on the internet and we can get the signal here. We downloaded it here and put it on air.

MM: Can you explain the case of the fishermen?

AL: The Cayos Cochinos Foundation has done a sort of zoning of the Cochinos Keys, in some areas artisanal fishing is allowed and not in others. The problem is that the fishermen live from fishing and they use artisanal equipment, they do not use GPS, or technology, sometimes they use oars, sometimes they fish with some small sailfish. So they do not know where you can and cannot fish, and since there are no signs they often fish where they believe the fish are. So the Foundation seizes them and confiscates everything, takes some of them prisoners. There is a type of fishing that we call los chorros, five or six people go and when there are signs of fish they put out the net, they round up the catch and pull it to shore. That fishing … and that is something very important for us communities because when they catch fish, nearly the whole population arrives. They call them chinchorreros, because they use a big net, they are people from the community, the Garifuna. They have to go out quite a way, because the net is quite large. They cannot do this job anymore, it is prohibited.

Apart from this they were doing some reality shows, Italian film companies were coming to make films here. There is big money involved. But what is happening with this? Why do they take certain areas of the Cochinos Keys? And when they are filming no one can pass through there. If you have to go fishing you cannot pass through the middle of the keys, you have to go around, some 15 kilometres, to go fishing, and if a fisherman works with the oar, he does not have a motor or anything, and if they are filming for 15 days, no one can pass. We condemn that, and I personally went to do an inspection because there had been lots of complaints from the fishermen because they could not go out. The military is looking after … at the request of … that park authority, also our Garifuna organisation. So those from the Foundation said that I could do an inspection, but the Italian would not allow it … so he told me that I should come back another day, but I did not come back because we do not have the time to be going. … to Italy, and they responded that many people were granted work … that the reality show had improved the living status of the fishermen.

If we talk about the situation that is occurring now, there is a revolt. The day after tomorrow there is a commission going to Tegucigalpa, because as you see, I told you that I come from the area of … the people are angry. Yesterday there was a serious meeting, that commission leaves for Tegucigalpa, to protest against the … No, I think it is with different ministries, it is a serious meeting, and then, like the case in the Interamerican Court we do not know what will happen, because right now there is a lot …

They have been deceiving the people … the fishermen have not been consulted, they have not been told how they are going to be able to fish and how they are not going to be able to fish. Only line fishing is allowed.

We are working. There is a boy with two bullets in his hand … in one of the operations. That is one of the cases which we are going to present in front of the Commission. The boy has practically lost the use of his hand. There are other fishermen, including one of my brothers, who were going fishing, they took the boat … and they left them adrift, swimming, they were helped by other fishermen. We are preparing the video, it is going to come out, because we are sending it to the Commission, with the testimonies of those affected. It was terrible. Without doubt, we are hoping to win this case, the case of El Triunfo too. We hope to win them all.

Already we have put forward a case, the case of Alfredo López against the State of Honduras, because I was in jail for six years and six months, charged with a crime that I never committed and not even now do I know if there was … Right now we are in compliance with the … we are in that now, the State is talking. That is the case that has driven the other cases, especially El Triunfo de la Cruz. The State never fulfils everything with the sentences, but at least they made an attempt because otherwise no one controls them. We know that the United Nations is of the same States, but … independent of the OAS. In addition, the sentences … and the case law (jurisprudencia) is important.

There was also a programme here that was called the Land Administration Programme of Honduras (Programa de Administración de Tierras de Honduras, PATH), for land titling, and this programme was for … throughout Honduras, even us, the Garifuna communities, but in accordance with their vision, of the State, for doing business, that is, that they were going to privatise here. We had to sue the World Bank because they were providing the funds … and the inspection panel of the World Bank … we were right. So now PATH cannot be done in the Garifuna communities, and therefore all the properties that have been the subject of negotiation by the banks … that is why the recoveries which I was speaking about at the beginning … it is common land and it cannot be seized.

PATH operates in Honduras, but not in the indigenous towns, here we are working on our own titling. If we had not sued the World Bank, now we would not have … because it was a state policy, it was a proposal for …

MM: This proposal is from the Government?

AL: Yes, and the Bank was … the banks, also the World Bank and the IDB.

MM: … by environmentalist groups about the Cochinos Keys Foundation … this conflict, they have … what is your relationship with Fundación Prolansate?

AL: No, there is a lot of conflict and that relationship, especially here … has a lot of history. Why? Because Fundación Prolansate says one thing in statements and in reality does something else and so we’re not very enamoured of them.

Los Micos beach and resort, the mega-project … a golf course with 18 holes, was a relationship of the … if not that of the protected areas … some conventions, for example, the Ramsar Convention … they were being violated if filled in for a golf course. Then, the director of the Prolansate Foundation was ousted and then they changed their discourse, they said that yes you could do …

Before that, in 2003 … another case. That is why the relations are not good. One of Prolansate’s boats … passed by and there were children … went by at full speed, it took out these children and one of them died. We appealed for the case. What did they do? They won over the mother … balls to us because we were considering a lawsuit. Then the lady … they gave 10,000 lempiras to the boy’s mother and that put a stop to the lawsuit, because they said that they had made a settlement … we had to forget the case, but that was a precedent for us … the environment and the people, of course.

They did that here, about three months ago … they came here, I do not know what they were doing, inspecting, and they seized … Then the fishermen, as they do not know where to turn, came here, to the radio, it was full … we, they cannot come to confiscate nets without saying what is happening or what they are going to do … what they are doing at least. They came and seized the nets. The people were agitated. So here we made several reports, we spoke to the fishermen … were listening to the authorities. A meeting was called … Natural Resources and Prolansate, who were involved in the seizures, and the fishermen, and we were there to help guide … What was the meeting for? To explain to the people that what they were trying to do was explain the size of the nets which would be allowed, but that they were not seizing.

MM: They are asking what are the rights of … the fishermen, what they can and cannot do.

AL: There is a decree that gives them the right, supposedly for protecting the area, but not for harassing the people, they confuse the situation, because they wanted to explain that you cannot fish with some nets … that also we use traditionally. But I say to them, ‘but if we have used it for so many years, for so much time, why do you now come and tell us which is the right size of net?’ Furthermore, they should come first and then make the seizure … but you come and do things first and then come to explain it. Because the point is that there is a decree … so as there is a decree for the Anercagua Park (Anconcagua?), it is a legal matter, but … to prevent abuses, but they do not count … so the lawsuits.

They did not consult us … we are going to do such thing, they do it, and OFRANEH like it does not exist. That is why the government itself is in trouble with these projects because we have seen that with these projects, you cannot, we do not agree, but they do it. But they need us to tell them that … from the organisation. The decree says that you have to consult the organisation representing the Garífuna and officially we are one of them.

… they are doing to counteract this, as a government strategy … that is supposedly participation of the Garífuna people, but the council (patronatos) is not handling it … it is uncomfortable negotiating with you, they get hold of something else … you are going to represent … but it is not that really they are doing it in the right way.

… one or two projects of the IDB or the World Bank, so they sponsor them. This is how things are, which is why there are communities that we are not going to be able to save, some will be lost … show them some of the things that … we can go there to the land and we can take a look, right now.

AL: FUCSA, the last one which was terrible, there was a team of fishermen from here in Triunfo, fishing in Cuero y Salado [Protected Area]. They fired on the fishermen at night and killed one of them.

MM: FUCSA is an environmental organisation, like Prolansate.

Second File

MM: The other thing that Alfredo was saying a little while back was that, given the relationships with the environmental organisations like Prolansate and FUCSA, they believe that they have to work with nature and natural resources all the time and it is they who have to look after them.

END

Berta Oliva

Interviewee: Bertha Oliva, President of COFADEH (the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth and Lucy Goodman
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: 23rd August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes: 

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Martin Mowforth (MM): [A longish point about the change that has happened as a result of the coup d’état.]  How has the work of COFADEH changed?

Bertha Oliva (BO): Since the day of the coup d’état, we have seen our capacity to cope overtaken and that worries us because we have a clear indication that, as far as human rights go, there has been a savage worsening.

When COFADEH was first founded, in the 1980s, it was due to the forced disappearances and the violations of human rights, and we had a lot of work, great demand, many claims – at that time there were victims of all kinds of repression, of harassment and of surveillance. But we managed to do our work.

Now, looking back, we realise that the situation which faces this country today is very grave, because in the 1980s the repressive forces of the state used violence but in a hidden way, making use of paramilitaries. But today, after the first seven months, you can see the savagery in the streets, with the army oppressing the Honduran people. They try to take apart the Honduran people through repression. But it hasn’t happened as they wanted – the greater the repression, the greater the participation in society.

It seems to me that it doesn’t fit the current reality – after the seven months of the coup and since the 27th January when there was supposed to be a new government – according to them a constitutional and civil government – we can say that it’s just a continuity of the coup, it’s unfortunately a failed state. As a failed state, the situation changes, because in the 1980s we were trying to strengthen the state, although with serious deficiencies, but a state of law nevertheless. But today we have to strengthen …???…, and the only people who broke the constitutional order are those who are in the public institutions.

We have seen how things have changed, how life has changed for an organisation like COFADEH which is dedicated to follow-up, accompaniment, monitoring, action and lawsuits – it’s a different situation.

MM: As for the observation and monitoring of protests – today there has been a protest of the teachers?

BO: That has given us a totally different course of action. Just imagine, we are now faced with really strong protest marches but which are also very repressed. After the coup, which is now more than a year ago, the dynamic among the population is just as strong as it was at the time of the coup. For example, in the last few days the demonstration by the teachers has had hundreds and hundreds of participants – they took more than an hour and a half to pass by our office here. There were two to three hundred thousand people, all teachers.

There is a reality in the country that the successor government to the coup government is committing a huge mistake because it tries to ignore the social movement and the peoples’ demands. So, it’s going to overcome it by repression. But it doesn’t realise that such repression only serves to show the government as a lying violator of human rights, because according to its international image its commitment is as a government of reconciliation which respects human rights.

For example, right now you can see, you are witnesses to that man who just left – he was an agent of the secret police, as a paramilitary who infiltrates the marches.

MM: And what was he doing here?

BO: He was here because the protesters found him out. They grabbed him with a walkie-talkie giving out information, and he had been there, in the middle of the crowd, since 9 in the morning; and he was informing where they were and that they had to send more people like him. So the protesters grabbed him, and after the march, at about 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon, they brought him here so that COFADEH could call the attorney general’s office or the police. The people were very angry and when they brought him here we couldn’t say that they should take him because we knew that they were very angry and they could have done anything to him because they felt so offended. They could kill. So for us it was a very difficult situation, because when he is here we have to protect the rights of the assassin.

What he did was to call the Police Commissioner so that they would send for him. After he called the Commissioner he started saying he wasn’t one of them, but obviously they had advised him, because if the police sent for him, he would have to accept and admit that he was one of their agents. So they called me and said that they were going to send an attorney so that he could make a formal statement. Faced with that, I knew that they wanted to see how they could raise charges against us, but I said to him, “Look, you’re going to make a formal statement, but nobody here did anything to you, and so you decide whether you are going to go or to stay because nobody’s coming for you.” But he had already called his father and his father sent a lawyer. So he told the lawyer, …???… The lawyer said to him, “Why are you here?” It’s because he was informing on the activities of the protest march …???…

That’s the kind of work that we have to do daily now. It’s very difficult. To assume a role like that is not easy. We had a hitman here who was infiltrating a march monitoring protesters in the Resistance and teachers who were protesting about their rights which had been violated and that they had been victims of attacks and aggressions the like of which I’ve never had to register before.

MM: Have you never registered them with the police?

BO: But there’s so much aggression by the police in public. For example, on Friday when the protest had finished the teachers were concentrated in the Francisco Morazán University; some were getting ready to have lunch and others were preparing to go and analyse what had happened in the protest march, when they were savagely attacked by the police. They fired more than 200 tear gas bombs, each one of which costs $100. According to what we’ve been seeing, those bombs are the same as they used in Perú to break down the Sendero Luminoso group. It’s a really strong bomb which stuns and bewilders people. They are using lethal tear gas bombs against the protesters.

The effect on these people is going to be very strong in a little while; and on top of that they detained four of the teachers’ leaders – they held them and beat them up, they split open their heads and they put them in a cell which wasn’t legal. We were looking for them for more than two hours; we didn’t know which station they were in and we called it a kidnapping. Afterwards they moved them to the Core 7 police station where they raised charges against them and kept them until 2 in the morning with access to a doctor – and they were bleeding. That was effectively constant torture for more than twelve hours.

Afterwards they were driven to a private hospital in an armoured police car to receive medical attention. What’s more, they were so cruel – they ordered a police presence in the hospital, almost on the doors where they were. I asked that they withdraw the police presence because they didn’t need to guard them especially as those who had attacked them were from the same police corps and that they would be better cared for by their colleagues. Also, they were teachers and if they would want to file charges they were not going to abscond or flee.

This has been something that has been happening for many years. The system of the application of justice, all those involved in the delivery of justice, they have always been …???…; but at the moment it doesn’t even matter whether the people know and that was clearly shown to happen on Friday. The Public Prosecutor is the department which files charges against the detained. Their mandate is to protect, defend and accompany the population and society. And what they did was to file charges against the detained without intervening to ensure that they were immediately set free. If after they were found responsible for what the police had claimed, then they would receive open judgements. But faced with the barbarity of tear gas bombs, a tank of pepper gas spray, bullets, a detachment of more than 500 police who were there – for each teacher who was grabbed there were up to 50 police. How could a teacher do anything against these policemen? But even so, the Public Prosecutor has filed charges against them. They are accused of sedition and of lacking respect for authority.

MM: What are your relations with the current government? Do you have any channels open to you that you can use to change the practices of the police and the army, through the judiciary or other branches of the state?

BO: That’s the waste in the process that we have. Now what we have is a confrontation. So we talk of the indefensibility in that we are the defenders of human rights for the population. We had created spaces to allow us to help in the case of human rights violations, but today we no longer have them – that’s all gone. On the one hand, we believe that the government is not a government, rather it is a régime which imposes the idea that we should accept things even if they aren’t legal, even if they aren’t just – everything that it does violates human rights. These days I am realising that our spaces for manoeuvre are being reduced because a defender of human rights who does their work, who is not only making statements to the press, but also in COFADEH we accompany the victims, we take testimony and we help them to recover their emotional stability. After we make the denunciations to the Public Prosecutor, we insist that judgements are made in the courts. That’s not easy, because at the moment, as the Public Prosecutor was one of the institutions which legalised and whitewashed the coup d’état, they are the same officials – they haven’t changed these authorities at all the Attorney General, the Assistant Attorney, and in my judgement the Human Rights Attorney, the Constitutional Attorney, the Attorney for …???…, and the Attorney for Children are all lawyers who have acted with false …???…; and then if we go to the Supreme Court of Justice, they are the same people who carried out the military coup, who signed everything that justified the coup. If we go to the National Congress, which is where we have less effect because right now we are in the middle of them making new laws to strengthen their position – but equally they are the same deputies who were elected and were in Congress when the coup took place. The space we have to work in for human rights are minimal, and we are left only with the ability to make denunciations to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

MM: The IACHR is one of your hopes?

BO: Well at least it offers a hope in the short term, but to make a denunciation and to demand precautionary measures we turn to the Inter-American System and the International System for the Protection of Children. We have dared to inform the Commission and we have asked for measures. To Amnesty International we have sent urgent actions because there isn’t just persecution in the public protests, there’s also a much graver situation, a hostility towards, surveillance of and threats to social leaders and NGO directors.

MM: And to you yourself, I imagine?

BO: Well, I admit that we have been threatened plenty of times, but I try not to say anything about it because if I start thinking about the threats we receive, we would do nothing and wouldn’t be able to slog away at all the other threats and violations. You have to realise that this is very hard. Right now, for example, I’m fearful of what is happening with this case, because they can raise me as a cause because with that lad they brought here they could accuse me of detaining him illegally.

We get every type of threat. They threaten us with legal action, they threaten us publicly, and we have also seen that as every day the situation gets worse it becomes more dangerous. Acts against life, acts against liberty, acts against the psychological state of people are all now systematic, selective and hushed up. During the first days of August seven journalists were threatened. Under Lobo’s government from the 27th [January] six journalists were threatened in February, March and April. But in the month of August, six journalists were being seriously threatened and detained – they were illegally detained and they had hampered their work before that. You wouldn’t believe that they could act so shamelessly against journalists.

The campesino sector. For instance, is one sector which is being threatened like you have no idea, and another thing which seems vital to me to say is that the battle for land in the interior of the country is very serious. Those people who you see downstairs, they are from the community of Puerto Grande in the south of the country, on the Island of Zacate Grande in the Gulf of Fonseca. They’re receiving death threats; yesterday some of them were wounded, and of those wounded one woman was hospitalised. I think there are about 80 families live there and the owner is a powerful landowner, Miguel Facussé, whose strategy has been to get families fighting amongst themselves. He’s got families to say that he is giving them that land; so he’s not fighting with the communities, instead families are fighting amongst themselves and that brings out the state authorities. So along come the authorities, the DGIC and the Public Security Force to see who’s fighting, and they say to them I’m only here to carry away the dead [there is probably some other proverbial or colloquial phrase or saying which would fit better here.]. That is a direct threat, but likewise, at the same time, it’s happening in Bajo Aguán, in Tocoa Colón, with the MUCA [The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán] – the same Miguel Facussé, killing people, harassing people. So this is returning and coming round again like a ring.

In Tegucigalpa it’s a lie that there is governability. Here there are crawlers; here they have wanted to manage MUCA, so Lobo Sosa has signed an agreement, a deed of commitment, which says he will honour and which says he will deliver them lands, with titles, and that he is going to grant money for this purpose and that then it will be monitored. But what we have seen up to now is that no land titles have been delivered. That’s not what he offered, but what he has been giving is death. But they want to manage it at the international level, to show that they are progressing in this matter and to make sure that there is nobody who comes and says what they are in fact doing. But what is certain is that the conflict is continuing and the lack of respect for life is at its most intense since the start of the coup because the President believes that by saying he has signed agreements and that he has nominated commissions to monitor the accords, he uses it and sells it and wants to impose the idea that the situation is improving.

So, as his is a government of reconciliation, he has created an Official Commission of Truth and Reconciliation.

[Please note here the difference between the government appointed Truth Commission, officially called the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, and the international Truth Commission.]

MM: What hopes do you have for this Commission and the other Truth Commission?

BO: We’ve supported the Truth Commission. We know that it will have serious limitations because when you want to get information from the institutions of the state, they will possibly close up or will dilute the information when they deliver it. But equally, we know that what the Truth Commission can collect is going to be fixed in the notion of finding and deepening the truth without manipulation. For me, yes, there is hope in the Truth Commission.

It’s taking us a lot of effort to install it because it would seem that there are interested parties who are keen for it not to proceed, and that’s what the state, the government, is betting on because they want their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be the only one that is considered to be valid. The biggest political blow that the government has had up to now has been the installation of the Truth Commission and the recognition that it has given to the National Resistance Front because they were thinking of raising the profile of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but they haven’t been able to.

Just imagine, one of the members of the Honduran Truth Commission is the Rector of the University against whom there has been a trade union hunger strike for more than 100 days because he sacked them in violation of their collective contract, despite the fact that there were fixed and official recommendations that they must be reinstated because their rights were being violated. But there were more than 40 of them and he didn’t want to reinstate them into their work.

So, if any of the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission commits a violation of social rights, do you believe that they can contribute to discovering the truth about human rights violations and which are much stronger and which are being committed by the government? It seems to me that this is a real problem. Perhaps in a year or six months they’ll deliver their first report.

It’s possible that the Truth Commission will report later than is generally thought, but the expectations that we have for the Truth Commission are the only ones we have. It’s the only one on which we can place our belief for everybody who is in solidarity with Honduras. The 28th June 2011 is the date planned for the first report, not the final report which will be concluded and produced in September 2011. The problem with the Truth Commission is that they’ve closed their searches, which is what happened during the coup, during the Micheletti régime, and is happening the same now. That shows the difference. I think that the facts of the cases are showing us some really strong things.

Right now we are producing a situational human rights report which isn’t finished yet. It’s currently in draft, but says that the assassinations carried out with political motives are now greater than those which were carried out under the Micheletti régime.

MM: The problem of impunity is one which has lasted for over 80 years, or certainly existed before; but impunity still exists here. What can the international community do to help to overcome this problem in Honduras?

BO: I believe that the international community can help us a lot right now. It’s the biggest crisis moment that this country has lived through. On the one hand, there is a communication strategy. The government has all the media and it is misinforming. The media which the international community reads are the media of the coup and that is where the disinformation is. The international community has to be watchful. It seems to me that each country can create solidarity committees, and solidarity relating specifically to the theme of human rights, to raise the level of awareness so that in your countries you know what we’re living through here. Honestly, I admit that the situation of human rights violations has overtaken COFADEH’s capacity to deal with them – every day we get more cases, to which we have to add the levels of poverty with which we work, because we are not economically prepared to respond to such barbarity. That obliges us to grasp the hand of wherever we can in order to attend to the people, to be able to help them.

MM: Do you have relations with Amnesty International?

BO: Yes, we do have relations with Amnesty. Amnesty collaborates with us a lot on Urgent Actions, but equally I believe that the solidarity committees should do that, as much to pressure the government as to look for ways and means of collecting funds and sending them. Not only do we have external displacements, where we have to take various people out of the country as an emergency, but we also have internal displacements. There are people who are in a very serious situation who we have to send to different places away from their homes, for example for a month until the situation passes – and that month is not free.

Also the clear poverty of the country and unemployment is enormous. In the face of all this, it’s very sad that whoever is empowered by the state is sharing out what little remains with the state. And that refers to the dams, the river basins – it’s impressive what they are doing. And if the population protest, then it is nothing much for the person to kill them and have done with it, …???…, and that’s it.

Corruption is another factor which is selling off the people. That is to say if someone sees acts of corruption and denounces them, he becomes the object of persecution, s/he’s sacked or s/he has to leave his/her job if it’s the boss who is being corrupt. But that is also an example of impunity.

The Honduran people are soon going to suffer disenchantment. These people have resisted and have kept up their morale, but there’s going to come a moment when morale falls because there are so many deaths – every time there’s a march, they fire tear gas, they torture, they assault, they emotionally destabilise with death threats, they steal from them, they accuse them of terrorism. It’s an oppressive state. What worries me most, and it should be the same for solidarity too, is how countries are recognising such an oppressive state under circumstances in which the massacres and political persecution are not stopped, it’s that that we come to expect as a people. That’s when disenchantment arrives in the country and its inhabitants. If right now the government is desperate for states to recognise it and it continues to violate human rights, it’s not going to stop doing it when it’s been recognised. Impunity is going to be a strong factor, and repression is going to get even worse.

At the moment in the country we are suffering hunger and there has been a time lag as far as militarisation goes, and we’ve managed to do a lot in that time. The most difficult thing is that in the militarisation the important positions have been taken by the human rights violators of the 1980s, the ones who are operating the death squads. That’s a product of impunity, a product of the squad members who we saw in the 1980s criminalised social protest. Nobody can protest because they are exposed to being gassed, to being detained or wounded or just disappeared.

MM: Are you labelled as terrorists?

BO: I work for human rights, but they label me as a member of the Resistance, and I support the Resistance, and for them that says everything. What I have said clearly I am always going to say – not just say, but do, because we don’t just talk, we also act – and it is the human rights defenders who, along with the people, suffer the abuse from agents of the state – they don’t leave human rights defenders alone. The defender who conforms ceases to be a defender. So, it doesn’t matter that they brand us as whatever they want to brand us as. But what is certain is that we face a broken country, a failed state. In the short term I don’t see that the situation is going to stabilise, in fact to the contrary, it’s going to get worse. It’s not going to get better if there is recognition and reinsertion of the state of Honduras into the Organisation of American States (OAS). That is not what is going to sort out the country, on the contrary, that will deepen and worsen the human rights violations because they are already unaccountable because they’re already accepted. The people’s suffering here is going to get worse every day.

As part of all that, there are people who describe the pain and the anxiety. This is a graphic on the death of Isis Obed. He was the first visible victim after the coup, because there were others before the coup – 15 days before the coup there were deaths, people who were calling for participation in the fourth poll were assassinated.

MM: It’s obvious that you need economic support.

BO: And more! I think we need to spread information about the situation because we have an impressive media barrier here. People come and because they don’t see any information in the media, they think everything is normal. But just imagine, in the National Autonomous University of Honduras there are four people who have been on hunger strike for more than 100 days, and still the problem isn’t resolved. For more than 15 days the Teacher’s Security Institute (Inprema) has been demanding that everything that was taken from it should be returned. That’s part of the corruption. The problem is not just funds, it is also about saving education in Honduras – it goes further than recovering the stolen funds, it’s about education in Honduras. There’s a tendency to privatise it and with the prevailing ignorance and limitations of the population and with the levels of poverty that we have, if Honduras was poor before the coup, now we have extreme levels of poverty. If the international financial organisations continue making the mistake of believing that support for the institutions of the state is going to resolve the problem, it’s not so – that will make it worse. The people need direct help. What the government is interested in right now, and what it will be interested in for a long time to come, is increasing the number of soldiers and the police force, strengthening the paramilitary groups so that they can subjugate the country even more in order that citizen awareness of education as the duty of the state and the government is not allowed to increase. And what they want to do is to privatise it. If they privatise education, Honduras will be condemned to absolute failure.

I feel that today there is a strategy to subordinate us. Some people have a lot of strength; others have very little and some are very easy targets – they’re more defenceless than others.

If you ask me what I would ask for, I would say the elimination or reorganisation of the Public Prosecutor’s office, to see if we can construct a space, because if you continue making denunciations to the Public Prosecutor, the international human rights institutions say to us, “Have you already made a denunciation to the Public Prosecutor?” By doing so we are strengthening a broken and criminally corrupt institute of the state. The worst thing is that we make a serious denunciation and we name witnesses, but we’ve had so many witnesses who have been assassinated. On the 30th July 2009 a teacher in a protest march was assassinated – he was called Roger Iván Murillo. For Roger’s assassination there was a teacher to give his testimony to the Public Prosecutor. He was a witness, he said that he knew who shot Roger because he was near his colleague. Prior to that the Public Prosecutor offered to give him protected witness status and within the month he was assassinated. The death of the first teacher was in July, and the witness was killed on 16th September – it didn’t take long.

There is a lad who in September filmed when they entered the barrios and shot a union (Sitrainfof) president. With his film he went to the Public Prosecutor to say that he had the proof, and that if they would guarantee his safety he would give it to them because on the film you could see and identify who shot him. That was on the 22nd September, and he went to the Public Prosecutor on the 24th or 25th September. In December his wife was killed. She was driving their vehicle. It was an attempt on his life, but they killed his wife instead.

Similarly, there was another case on the 22nd September [2009]. There was a lad who was due to give testimony. When the trial opened in the case of Don Francisco (another man they killed), he served as a witness because he saw and recognised the soldiers and police involved. Since that date, that lad has suffered more than 17 attacks. In September his wife was killed. As with the other case, they killed the wife because they got it wrong. In his case, they killed her by spraying gas …???… After the death of his wife, he continued getting attacked.

How on earth can people go to give testimony in a legal action to the Public Prosecutor, when the first thing they do is kill them? That is an indefensible situation of a failed state; that is what little hope we have in justice. There has to be first a purge of the place [the Public Prosecutor’s office].

Lucy Goodman (LG) : Are you worried for your own life?

BO: It’s a very difficult situation. Almost all of us, everybody who works here, have been subjected to threats. There are 17 of us here. They’ve loosened the brakes on our vehicles, they’ve loosened the screws on the tyres of the vehicles. The office was attacked before the coup. We’ve also been attacked with tear gas bombs. In September [2009] here, there were more than 150 people seeking refuge from police persecution and we were seriously attacked. They surrounded us and threw tear gas bombs below – it was a desperate situation. They closed down a space we used to have on the radio because we were working on a programme about historical memory called ‘Voices Against the Forgotten’. They closed it down without telling us absolutely anything. Now we broadcast by Radio Blog, but we’ve been heavily …???… We can’t live with fear. It’s terrible to be terrorised; for me it’s the worst type of psychological hardship.

When I remember everything that I have felt living with the people, I assure you that I feel a …???…, and I say we must do something, we have to do something, because what they want is that we won’t even say anything, they want to immobilise us.

BREAK

BO: [Referring to Tegucigalpa, I think] It’s a city which is horribly destroyed, and not just the formality of it, but structurally too because nobody …???… there is no plan designed by the local authorities to improve the situation. What they’ve tried to do all the time is just put patches and more patches on, because that allows them to get international solidarity. For example, with the dengue – nobody believes that it’s really the dengue that’s the problem. There was a flood in May [2010], so the government declared a national emergency and began to take people out unconditionally.

MM: They need to declare emergencies in order to attract funds from the IMF, the World Bank and the IBD.

BO: It’s the only way they can get funds, but if only it was to get funds to provide work. But no, it’s to obtain funds to put in their own pockets because they have to make a profit somehow. …???… impoverishing and destroying the country and its people. Public officials are never going to want to make a government of the people, that stimulates people, that shares …???… under-development. Zelaya wanted to do things, but the oligarchy didn’t allow him to because those things worked in favour of the people and encouraged them with raising things like the minimum salary. They are greedy businessmen, because even with the increase in the minimum salary, it wasn’t enough to cover the cost of the ‘basic basket’ for people. But it did increase it by almost double. We’ve had now seven months of this government which should have resolved the issue of the minimum salary, but it hasn’t even thought about the issue. What it’s doing is the greatest cruelty. For example, the fast food transnationals are firing people and then re-hiring them on hourly contracts only.

MM: Under the new contracts they don’t have any responsibility to pay any social security or other guarantees.

BO: Not even a Christmas bonus because they pay them daily.

END

Bryn Wolfe

Interviewees: Bryn Wolfe
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: Wed. 18th August 2010
Theme: General human rights situation in Honduras; palm oil cultivation and Miguel Facussé; free trade treaties
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

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.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Martin explaining book, especially Re. African Palm cultivation and Miguel Facussé.

Bryn Wolfe (BW): I wonder what the connection is – who’s buying it? I assume he’s growing it for fuel.

MM: Yes, although I’ve just read an article today which quoted him as saying that we’re trying all kinds of new margarines and that kind of thing; but I think that’s a cover.

BW: Most of the cooking oil is African palm.

MM: Well that doesn’t surprise me, but then there’s so much African palm, you could have enough cooking oil for the whole of the Americas. [3:46]

BW: Do you know about Sam Zamuri, the banana guy? He’s really interesting. That guy also created the Zamorano, the research institute. And he virtually introduced the African palm to diversify. He was an odd guy. He was a Russian Jew who emigrated to the US in 1870 – 1880, and then he was very clever. He worked out that he could buy the over-ripe bananas or rotting bananas cheap to supply ice cream parlours, and he  …. that from almost nothing into 20,000 dollars, and when he’d made that money, he then started getting interested in the production. So he made the connection early in the  …. And he actually financed President Bonilla’s coup in the early [19]20s. He got 50 mercenaries on a boat, eluded the US government officers, or paid them off and they sailed in; and he got a five year concession on taxes. But apart from that he introduced the African palm. Even more bizarre, apparently he gave a grant to found one of the universities in Louisiana, which apparently has a very liberal reputation. But of course his actions with the United Fruit Company and everything else were ….

MM: Zamorano I find a strange institute – on the one hand, there’s very serious work on GM crops and on the other, there’s work on things like biopesticides and IPM (integrated pest management). [5:57]

BW: Is it actually integrated with the agricultural production on the famous Zamorano  ….?

MM: Well, I think only on the Zamorano-owned land, but they have various places – for instance, they have some bases – I’m not sure whether they own them, but I suspect they do – down in Valle and Choluteca where water melons are grown.

[More  re. African palm]

MM: It is of course related to the global issue of alternative fuels – an appalling solution if ever there was one.

BW: Yes, when I first read about Malaysia, with the environmental disaster and the human rights stuff. And then I thought they were growing a little bit of it, or they were just introducing it. But when I researched it – I mean they started growing it in the late [19]40s.

MM: More explanation of book. ….

Discussion of the research for the book and research assistants.

BW: Discussion re. Noelia / did Masters at Essex / Noelia Jover / working on climate change / also on Mexico /

Much general discussion. ….. lasting a long time.

Elly talking too, but very difficult to hear her.

[18:24]

BW: The coop is very interesting. …. The Red Comal is a cooperative which is really … The analysis of the whole problem of the agricultural situation they find themselves in. … Their analysis of everything that was happening was really impressive … And then they got raided. On election day, the police came in and yanked the hard drive out of all their computers. …

[MM on the book again.]

BW: [23:26] How do you feel about Costa Rica? Do you think it’s the Switzerland of Central America?

MM: Well, not really. You can see that it’s so much better than … with lots of nice places, but  scratch the surface of course and you will find plenty of environmental and social problems as well.

BW: Like any place, even developed places, the affluence and the relative deprivation. In terms of the different countries, it’s not that richer.

MM: No. the poverty there is less than in Nicaragua and Honduras, of course, but …

BW: But the general output and the level of people who are making money is greater.

MM: Yes, that’s right.

BW: Up to about two years ago when the TLC came in. I love the initials – TLC – Tender Loving Care in English. The same acronym. But I was fascinated – I’d visited Costa Rica a couple of times before – I’d never worked there. [25:08] After a while I started asking a few Costa Rican friends ‘What’s the difference?’ Because if I look at the geology and topography of Honduras and Costa Rica, there a few more volcanoes; and most of the Costa Ricans who gave me a good analysis said that they thought it was during the first Arias regime in the eighties that their government invested big time in education; so they got a jump in that they had more English, so that it was attractive to foreign companies to come in and then maybe start to ….

MM: I’m sure there’s some truth in that, but also it was earlier than that wasn’t it? I think in the late fifties and early sixties they invested quite a lot in their social systems and social welfare system, and health. And at that time there was no equivalent investment in places like Honduras or Nicaragua or Guatemala. And so it got a jump on the others there as well. …

It was only in the mid-1990s when tourism took over as the number one from coffee, or was it bananas?

BW: Apparently the development of coffee was different there from Honduras, in that there were a lot of small producers who were quite viable. So it made a difference too that they were all affluent. I always find it bizarre if you travel during the daytime and you see all those big cattle ranches with the Brahmin cattle.

MM: But then you go to the area you went to, Cartago, and you go past all these small farms growing vegetables and coffee too. You know they’re small – they’ve all got their little stalls out by the side of the road. [27:38]  In a similar way, its tourism developed like that to start with, and it still has a reputation for that – great reputation for relatively small-scale, relatively low-impact, sensitive tourism development  with lots of little lodges.

BW: Now they’re talking of condos.

MM: Exactly.  Since the late 1990s when things like Papagayo and things like big condominia, far from sensitive – all down the Pacific coast, Jaco, up in the Guanacaste area, there are big developments, and more developments planned. And of course these take huge amounts of water, particularly for …. So, that’s an interesting one for Chapter 3, because actually there is a particular struggle in Guanacaste, which is a dry area anyway, there are three major players all fighting for the water. One is the tourism industry, particularly for its golf courses and for its big developments, hotel and resort developments; two is agriculture because that’s being developed more and more in that area; and then three are the local people. And you can guess who’s going to have least power out of those three.

BW: In the nineties, the biggest budget I got out of the European Union – close to half a million euros – was for a huge indigenous integrated project in the far south, places south of Puerto Limón. It was a huge integrated thing with the indigenous, and of course they were under a lot of pressure. I find it very sad.

MM: Last week, I was in Casa Ridgway, and there was a group of indigenous Costa Ricans there to protest against the withdrawal of the law which gives them a degree of protection. So there are quite a lot of things going on. Then there’s Crucitas, the gold mine in the north.

BW: You know about the controversy about the place called Valle here?

[MM explains re. Goldcorp and the Marlin Mine in Guatemala.]

BW: This is that place which is so complicated because the whole mountain is a watershed for this little town, and the people have all kinds of titles that they’ve held these areas in the mountains for years, and then some golpista family comes in and claims they bought all the trees, and they want to clear all the trees. And of course the mining corporation wants to come in and do a strip mine. So it’s destroying the whole environment of the area, it’s essentially destroying the village. And then there are title disputes – it’s not that different from Bajo Aguán.

[MM: explains re. cyanide heap leaching, acid rain, skin diseases, etc.]

[Then they move onto pineapple production.]

BW: Here of course all the rivers and surface waters are polluted. ….

Somebody told me years ago – I couldn’t figure it out about Chiapas – you know I grew up in Mexico – and where the Mayas and the indigenous people were living was in the marginal areas anyway on the mountains and the slopes. It didn’t make sense to me with the hacendados – what was the land grab? Then some Mexicans told me well, it was uranium – there’s uranium there. It wasn’t for agricultural purposes or anything else – they want the uranium.

[Mention then of Isabel MacDonald’s mention of uranium.]

[Then more on Pacific Rim, and other examples of gangsterism.]

[BW: gives example of women’s groups protesting against discrimination.]

BW: The big story here of course that has fascinated me – when I arrived in the first year or two, I used to talk about Honduras as the Big Sleep. Because you have the traditional left who would get 200 or 300 people marching once a year on the presidential palace. It was just a group – the women’s group was separate – and who heard of the indigenous? (There about the same number, I think – about 5 or 6 % like Costa Rica). And suddenly when everything happened – the coup – this group came together, the Frente [38:37] and the left wing groups amazed me, the traditional political parties, because they genuinely seem to have embraced the indigenous and the women’s groups. And they, the women’s groups and the indigenous, definitely had an effect on the Frente. And the indigenous groups had a voice, and suddenly these invisible people and the Lenca, have suddenly come forward.

[MM: explains re. ENCA and earlier interview with Berta Cáceres.]

BW: A month ago when the police arrested her. They didn’t give her a bad time, but then she had a lot of signatures for the Constituyente, and they robbed those. Bertha Oliva, …. But that’s the interesting story – the invisible people. But the water thing too – it hasn’t been much of an issue here up to now, but if you look at what happened with the water in Brazil and Chile – it’s a big deal.

[Various items of discussion.]

BW: Ten years ago or fifteen years ago in the north, there’d been 300 Honduran rice farmers. Then as the markets opened up and the US was dumping the subsidised rice, suddenly there’s like fifteen people growing rice. You can go to the supermarkets with your students and try to find Honduran rice – all of it is American. When I returned in 2005, where I had to catch a connection I was talking to a farmer who was saying there’s no money in frijoles, maiz, rice – there’s no money in it – the trade agreements and everything else.

[General chat.]

Sayeed arrives [50:15] – with semitas.

[66 mins.] Talk of food.

Talk also of book entitled ‘Pseudo Capitalism’. Bryn considers it very suspect because of lack of index and rigour.

[80 mins]  Much talk of computers – Sayeed helping Bryn with viruses.

[102 mins]

BW: [104:15] I’ve just got this article which I thought would be interesting by Annie Bird from Rights Action. It’s just a big change because she was saying that the US failure to get the votes in the OAS. First of all she said that Maria Otero tried to meet with the Frente, and I’ve not been able to get a straight answer out of the Frente people I know about whether they met with her or they rebuffed her or whatever. Annie Bird was saying that 1) the US has accepted that the Frente is a player – they have to talk to them. And the other thing they have accepted is that the Constituent Assembly is inevitable. That’s a big change because if the US accepts it, then the military and the oligarchy have to. But then they’ll try to control the process, which is why the Frente …. So it’s a big change.

[Talk of Sayeed’s car.]

[The rest is farewells and chit-chat, in the car.]

END