Evangélicos Financiados por los Estados Unidos y Golpistas Detrás de la Nueva Comisión para Depurar la Policía Hondureña

ENGLISH VERSION BELOW

Otro escándalo exponiendo la corrupción policial y participación de comisionados de la policía hondureña en asesinatos y crimen organizado salió en la prensa otra vez en marzo del 2016. Poco después, el 7 de abril, el Congreso hondureño aprobó un decreto que legisla la depuración de la policía hondureño, declarando la limpieza como una “prioridad nacional.” El decreto pidió la creación de la Comisión Especial para Depurar la Policía Nacional de Honduras.

No es la primera vez que un escándalo provoca la aprobación de una legislación para depurar las fuerzas de seguridad hondureñas corruptas. En Enero de 2014, se creó la Comisión de Reforma de Fuerzas de la Seguridad Pública y hoy se admite ampliamente que fue un fracaso enorme, incluso por aquellos que aplaudieron su esfuerzo. Algunos no se sorprenden al ver que esta nunca logró aquello para lo cual fue creada.

El gobierno de Honduras lo hace de nuevo. Días después que se aprobara el decreto 2016, se formó una Comisión Especial para Depurar la Policía Nacional de Honduras. Entonces pensé que valdría la pena echar un vistazo a las asociaciones y antecedentes de los tres Comisarios nombrados a la Comisión - Omar Rivera, Alberto Solórzano y Vilma Morales.

 Izquierda a derecha: Ministro de Seguridad Julian Pacheco, Presidente de Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, Omar Rivera de ASJ, Vilma Morales y Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Fuente: El Heraldo

Izquierda a derecha: Ministro de Seguridad Julian Pacheco, Presidente de Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, Omar Rivera de ASJ, Vilma Morales y Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Fuente: El Heraldo

Omar Rivera, Coordinador, Asociación para una Sociedad Más Justa (ASJ)

Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) es una organización hondureña y estadounidense que recibe apoyo significativo de USAID de los EEUU para ejecutar programas como Centros de Alcance en el barrio de Nueva Suyapa en Tegucigalpa; los Centros de Asistencia Legal Anticorrupción (ALAC); y una subvención bajo el programa de educación “Impulsando la Participación Ciudadana, Transparencia y Oportunidades Sociales (IMPACTOS)”, entre otros. ASJ recibe el apoyo de la Iglesia Reformada Cristiana Evangélica en América del Norte.

ASJ coordina una iniciativa conocida como la Alianza para La Paz y La Justica (APJ), un amplio grupo de “organizaciones de la sociedad civil” que tiende a dominar los espacios donde la “sociedad civil” es consultada acerca de temas nacionales de importancia como seguridad, impunidad y corrupción. Entre los aliados de la APJ están el Grupo de la Sociedad Civil, Transformemos Honduras, MOPAWI y la Confraternidad Evangélica, entre otros. APJ es financiado por el Instituto Democrático Nacional (una organización del Partido Democrático de los EEUU que financia casi exclusivamente las mismas organizaciones aliadas con APJ) y el Departamento de Estado, desde la Oficina de Conflicto y Operaciones de Estabilización, creada para “mejorar la eficacia y la coherencia del gobierno de los EEUU en situaciones de conflicto.”

Es casi imposible investigar uno de los programas de ASJ sin conectarse a la financiación de los EEUU y programas que promueven la política estadounidense en Honduras y soluciones cosméticas a grandes problemas estructurales como la corrupción e impunidad. Muchas personas en el movimiento social hondureño ven a la ASJ y la Embajada de los EEUU como dos caras de la misma moneda.

Pastor Alberto Solórzano, Presidente, Confraternidad Evangélica, junta directiva, Alianza por la Paz y la Justicia (APJ)

Como se mencionó anteriormente, la Confraternidad Evangélica es uno de los miembros de la iniciativa APJ, coordinada por ASJ. La organización afirma que representa el 90% de todas las organizaciones evangélicas en Honduras. Un conocido pastor de la iglesia Vida Abundante y representante de la Confraternidad Evangélica, Evelio Reyes recientemente condujo rezos públicos en la Casa Presidencial con el presidente hondureño Juan Orlando Hernández, la primera dama Ana de Hernández y asistentes de muchas Iglesias y organizaciones evangélicas. Evelio Reyes, un pariente cercano al Ministro de Defensa, Samuel Reyes y amigo del Presidente Hernández, fue objeto de una demanda en 2013 presentado por el respetado activista hondureño de la comunidad LGBTI, Erick Martínez. El pastor profirió insultos degradantes y discriminatorios contra la comunidad LGBTI a su congregación diciéndoles que “no votaran por homosexuales o lesbianas que corrompen el modelo de Dios”.

En defensa de Reyes, la Confraternidad Evangélica escribió una carta pública, firmada por el Pastor Alberto Solórzano, uno de los miembros de la Comisión de Depuración Policial , expresando su desacuerdo con la investigación contra el Pastor Reyes y justifica las declaraciones homofóbicas como “movidos por el interés de presentar el plan de salvación de Dios para la humanidad con el objetivo de buscar la preservación de la sociedad.” Estos ataques verbales y odio contra la comunidad LGBTI son alarmantes teniendo en cuenta la violencia y los asesinatos reportados por organizaciones hondureñas. En los últimos siete años, 215 personas LGBTI han sido asesinadas en Honduras, 37 en los cuales ocurrieron en el años 2015 solamente.

Ante su nominación para la Comisión para Depurar la Policía, varios cuestionan la participación del Pastor Solórzano. Según el ex-fiscal general Edmundo Orellana, “ningún ministro religioso puede asumir funciones públicas,” alegando que el nombramiento del Pastor era ilegal. Las críticas de Orellana fueron ignoradas.

Vale la pena mencionar que los dos suplentes de la Comisión para Depurar la Policía son Carlos Hernández, Presidente de la ASJ y Jorge Machado, miembro de la Confraternidad Evangélica.

Vilma Morales, ex-Presidenta de la Corte Suprema de Justica; miembro, Comisión Interventora del Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS); miembro, Comisión Interventora del Instituto Nacional de Previsión del Magisterio (INPREMA)

Vilma Morales es conocido por su participación en “Comisiones de Intervención” en al menos dos instituciones públicas de Honduras desde el año 2009. Ella también es conocida como gran defensora del golpe de estado militar del 2009, negando en las semanas siguientes que un golpe ocurrió en Honduras. Morales represento el régimen de facto de Roberto Micheletti en las negociaciones después del golpe e insistió en que el derrocado presidente Manuel Zelaya se enfrentaría cargos criminales a su regreso a Honduras.

En Honduras, las “Comisiones Interventoras” son entendidas de ser “Comisiones de Privatización”. En muchas ocasiones, como fue el caso con INPREMA, IHSS, y la empresa telefónica HONDUTEL, todas las instituciones públicas fueron “intervenidas” o brevemente entregadas a una Comisión para una revisión estructural, que más tarde, propone reformas estructurales que ponen a las instituciones camino a la privatización. Vilma Morales participó en dos de las instituciones mencionadas y ayudó a blanquear la corrupción vinculada a funcionarios de alto nivel del gobierno en ambas ocasiones, garantizando la impunidad, mientras que la Comisión Interventora anunció grandes reformas neoliberales en ambas instituciones. Morales será conocido en la historia hondureña como una ‘perrita faldera’ del Fondo Monetario Internacional (FMI), que marcó el comienzo de los ajustes estructurales en ambas instituciones.

En 2009, el gobierno de facto de Roberto Micheletti saqueó más de $40 milliones del fondo de pensiones de los maestros, una de las bases más fuertes del movimiento social después del golpe: el Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP). La crisis financiera llevó a la Comisión Interventora, que Morales encabezó y más tarde recomendó serias reformas neoliberales a la institución. Con la intervención a su fondo de pensiones, los maestros perdieron el control de la administración de sus préstamos, sus beneficios sociales y junto con la aprobación de una nueva ley de educación, Morales y la Comisión Interventora marcaron el comienzo de algunos de los cambios más grandes en la educación pública en Honduras. El movimiento magisterial, uno de los más fuertes movimientos sociales en el país, cayó aparte debido a los grandes cambios estructurales a INPREMA, que dio pie a la privatización lenta y gradual de la educación pública.

Años después en 2014, Vilma Morales fue nombrada jefa de la Comisión Interventora del IHSS después de que el periodista hondureño David Romero destapara un escándalo de corrupción de $350 millones de dólares en el IHSS. El escándalo involucró la creación de una serie de empresas fantasmas que lavaron dinero desde el IHSS que manejó beneficios sociales y médicos para los empleados públicos. El dinero robado estaba vinculado a funcionarios de alto nivel en el actual partido en el poder y múltiples cheques fueron depositadas en las cuentas del Partido Nacional de Honduras. En el proceso, se produjo una crisis financiera en el IHSS. El IHSS se agotó de medicamentos, equipos, asistencia, y recursos humanos y alrededor de 3.000 personas perdieron la vida como resultado. Como la crisis explotó y miles de hondureños salieron a la calle exigiendo justicia, Morales fue nombrada a la Comisión Interventora establecida para revisar las finanzas y reestructurar el IHSS. Una de las recomendaciones de la Comisión fue la aprobación de la Ley Marco del Sistema de Protección Social que después, fue aprobado en el Congreso y recibió un fuerte respaldo de Morales. Sindicatos hondureños y empleados públicos criticaron la nueva ley y se movilizaron para detenerlo con poco éxito.

En diciembre de 2014, el gobierno hondureño firmó un acuerdo de $189 millones de dólares con el FMI. En el resumen del acuerdo Stand-By, el FMI aplaude los cambios estructurales realizados en IMPREMA y menciona la importancia de modelar la reestructuración del IHSS con las lecciones aprendidas en IMPREMA. Ambas reestructuraciones institucionales se produjeron después de una “crisis” de corrupción, el nombramiento y el trabajo de una Comisión Interventora y una nueva ley que propone ajustes económicos neoliberales radicales.

Vilma Morales, Omar Rivera y Pastor Alberto Solórzano son individuos vinculados a fuertes intereses evangélicos, golpistas, y a los de la Embajada de los EEUU. Su participación en la Comisión Especial para Depurar la Policía arroja una luz sobre a la posición de los EEUU en las decisiones que la Comisión tendrá que hacer dado los fuertes lazos de Rivera y Pastor Solórzano al financiamiento de la Embajada de los EEUU. Al examinar las asociacionesde Rivera y Solórzano también se plantean preguntas importantes sobre el firme apoyo de los EEUU y el financiamiento para las Iglesias y organizaciones evangélicas en Honduras. El papel de Vilma Morales en la Comisión puede ser reflejo de algún tipo de reestructuración económica, aunque hasta la fecha, la Comisión no ha tocado el tema.

U.S. Funded Evangelicals and Coup Supporters Behind the New Commission to Purge the Honduran Police

Another scandal exposing police corruption and involvement of Honduran police commanders in assassinations and organized crime hit the press again in March 2016. Shortly after, on April 7, the Honduran Congress approved a decree legislating the purging of the National Police, declaring a clean up of the police a “national priority.” The decree called for the creation of a Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police.

It is not the first time a scandal incited the approval of legislation to cleanup corrupt security forces. In January 2014, the Commission for Public Security Reform was also created, and today is widely admitted to have been a huge failure, even by those that applauded its effort. Some are not surprised that it never achieved what it was created to do.    

So the Honduran government is at it again. Days after the 2016 decree was approved, a three-member Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police was formed. I thought it was worth taking a look at the organizational associations and backgrounds of the three appointed Commissioners – Omar Rivera, Alberto Solórzano, and Vilma Morales. 

 From left to right: Ministry of Security, Julian Pacheco, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, ASJ's Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Photo credit: el heraldo 

From left to right: Ministry of Security, Julian Pacheco, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, ASJ's Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Photo credit: el heraldo 

Omar Rivera, Advocacy Director, Association for a More Just Society (ASJ); Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ)

Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) is a Honduran and U.S. faith-based organization that receives significant U.S. support from USAID to run Centros de Alcance that focus on "anti-gang and violence prevention" programs promoting extensively to address youth migration to the U.S; the Legal Advisory and Anti-Corruption Centers (ALAC); and a grant for an education program given under the Impulsing Citizen Participation, Transparency and Social Opportunities (Impactos), amongst others. ASJ receives support from the evangelical Christian Reformed Church in North America.

ASJ coordinates an initiative known as the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a broad group of “civil society organizations” that tends to dominate any spaces where “civil society” is consulted about important national issues including security, impunity, and corruption. Allies of APJ include the Civil Society Group, Transformemos Honduras, MOPAWI, and the Cofraternidad Evangelica de Honduras, amongst others. APJ is funded by the National Democratic Institute (who funds almost exclusively the same organizations allied with APJ) and the US Department of State, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, created to “improve the effectiveness and coherence of the U.S. government in conflict situations.”

Its almost impossible to research one of ASJ’s programs without connecting it to U.S. funding and programs that promote U.S. policy and cosmetic solutions to major structural problems like corruption and impunity. Many in the Honduran social movement see ASJ and the U.S. Embassy as one in the same.

Pastor Alberto Solórzano. President, Confraternidad Evangelical (CE), board member, Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ)

As mentioned previously, the Confraternidad Evangelica is one of the members of the ASJ-coordinated initiative APJ. It claims to represent 90% of all evangelical organizations in Honduras. A well-known pastor of the “Abundant Life” church and representative of the Confraternidad Evangelica, Evelio Reyes recently led public prayers in the Presidential Palace with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the First Lady Ana de Hernandez, and attendees of many evangelical churches and organizations. Evelio Reyes, a close relative of the Minister of Defense, Samuel Reyes, and friend of President Hernandez, was the subject of a 2013 law suit filed by well-respected LBGTI Honduran activist, Erick Martinez. The pastor made discriminatory and degrading insults against the LBGTI community to his congregation telling them not to “vote for homosexuals or lesbians who corrupt the model of God.”

In Reyes defense, the Confraternidad Evangelica wrote a public letter, signed by Pastor Alberto Solórzano, one of the members of the Police Purging Commission, expressing their disagreement with the investigation against Pastor Reyes and justifying the homophobic statements as “moved by the interest to present a salvation plan for humanity in order to seek the preservation of the society.” These verbal attacks and hate speech against the LGBTI community are alarming considering the violence and assassinations reported by Honduran organizations. In the last seven years, 215 LBGTI people have been murdered in Honduras, 37 of which occurred in 2015 alone.

Upon nomination to the Police Purging Commission, individuals questioned the participation of Pastor Solórzano. According to a former Attorney General, Edmundo Orellana, “no religious minister can assume public functions,” claiming that the Pastor’s nomination was illegal. Orellana’s criticisms were ignored.

It is worth mentioning that the two alternates for the Police Purging Commission are Carlos Hernandez, the President of ASJ, and Jorge Machado, a Board member of the Confraternidad Evangelica.

Vilma Morales, former President of the Supreme Court; member, Intervention Commission of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS); and member, Intervention Commission of National Welfare Institute for the Teaching Profession (IMPREMA).

Vilma Morales is best known for her participation in “intervention commissions” in at least two public Honduran institutions since 2009. She is also known as a major supporter of the 2009 military coup, denying in the weeks following that a coup taken place in Honduras. Morales represented the de-facto regime of Roberto Micheletti in negotiations after the coup, and insisted that the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya would face criminal charges upon returning to Honduras.

In Honduras, “intervention Commissions” have become understood as “privatization commissions”. In many occasions, as was the case with the IMPREMA, IHSS, and the telecommunications company, Hondutel, all public institutions were “intervened” or briefly handed over to a Commission for a structural review, that would later, propose structural reforms that set the institutions on the path to privatization. Vilma Morales was involved in two of the institutions mentioned and helped whitewash the corruption linked to high level officials in the Honduran government in both occasions, guaranteeing impunity, while ushering in major neoliberal reforms in both institutions. Morales will be known in Honduran history as a lapdog for the International Monetary Fund that ushered in the structural adjustments to the institutions.

In 2009, the de-facto government of Roberto Micheletti ransacked more than $40 million of pension funds from the Honduran teachers, one of the strongest bases of the post-coup social movement, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP). The resulting financial crisis led to the intervention commission, which Morales headed, and later, recommended serious neoliberal reforms to the institution. With the intervention of their pension fund, teachers lost control of managing small loans, social benefits, and together with the approval of a new education law, Morales and the intervention commission assisted in ushering in some of the largest changes in public education in Honduras. The teachers’ movement, one of the strongest social movements in Honduras, fell apart as a result of the major structural changes to IMPREMA, which paved the way to a slow, incremental path to privatization of public education.

Years later in 2014, Vilma Morales was appointed as head of the IHSS Intervention Commission after Honduran journalist David Romero broke a $350 million dollar corruption scandal in the Honduran Social Security Institute.  The scandal involved the creation of a series of ghost companies that laundered money from the IHSS that managed social and medical benefits for public employees. The stolen money was linked to high-level officials in the current political party in power and multiple checks were deposited in the accounts of the National Party of Honduras. In the process, a financial crisis in the IHSS ensued. The IHSS was depleted of medicines, equipment, care and human resources and an estimated 3,000 people lost their lives as a result. As the crisis exploded and thousands of Honduras took to the street demanding justice, Morales was appointed to join the Intervention Commission set to review finances and restructure the IHSS. One of the Commission’s recommendations was the approval of the Law for Social Protection that was later passed in Congress and received heavy endorsement by Morales herself. Honduran unions and public workers heavily criticized the new law and mobilized to stop it with little success.

In December 2014, the Honduran government signed a $189 million dollars agreement with the IMF. In the stand-by agreement summary, the IMF applauds the structural changes made in IMPREMA, and the importance of modeling the restructuring of the IHSS off of the lessons learned in IMPREMA. Both institutional restructuring occurred after a “crisis” of corruption, the appointment and work of an Intervention Commission, and a new law that proposed radical neoliberal economic adjustments.

Vilma Morales, Omar Rivera, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano are individuals tied to strong interests in Honduras – U.S. embassy, evangelical and golpista interests. Their participation on the Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police may provide a guiding light as to the U.S. position on decisions that the Commission will have to make given Rivera and Pastor Solórzano’s strong ties to U.S. funding. Examining Rivera and Solórzano’s associations also raises important questions about the strong U.S. support and funding for evangelical churches and organizations in Honduras. Vilma Morales’ role in the Commission may be reflective of some sort of economic restructuring, although to date, the Commission has not touched on the matter.

Lilian Got Her Job Back in Gildan!

The Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) is happy to report that Canada-based apparel company Gildan caved to the pressure and Lilian Castillo was given her job back today!!

After three long years of battling the Honduran courts, unemployment, and serious financial difficulties related to the high costs of the medical treatment for her worked-related injury, Lilian will now be given a job inside the factory that doesn’t involve demanding work paces and repetitive movements on the assembly lines. She will now be able to get her 15 and 17 year old son and daughter back into high school (they were pulled out b/c of Lilian’s financial situation) and Lilian will now have medical benefits that will cover a lot of the treatment she needs for her musculoskeletal disorder.

 Photo caption: Lilian Castillo after being reinstated outside the gates of Gildan's 'San Miguel' factory in Choloma. Women workers behind her inside the gates show their solidarity on their lunch break. Photo by CODEMUH

Photo caption: Lilian Castillo after being reinstated outside the gates of Gildan's 'San Miguel' factory in Choloma. Women workers behind her inside the gates show their solidarity on their lunch break. Photo by CODEMUH

 Photo caption: VICTORY!!! Other maquila workers organized in CODEMUH along with Lilian (middle) after the victory today outside Gildan's factories. Solidarity with CODEMUH! Photo by: CODEMUH

Photo caption: VICTORY!!! Other maquila workers organized in CODEMUH along with Lilian (middle) after the victory today outside Gildan's factories. Solidarity with CODEMUH! Photo by: CODEMUH

CODEMUH and Lilian are super proud! On goes the struggle for other men and women just like Lilian that have been fired or laid off b/c of their health injuries developed from the poor working conditions and repetitive movements inside Russell Brand (US), Hanes (US), and Gildan (Canadian) factories.

Thank you for your tweets and letters of solidarity!!!

 

Gildan! Give Lilian Castillo her Job Back in Honduras! Obey the Honduran Supreme Court’s Orders of “Immediate Reinstatement”

On March 2, 2016, the Honduran Supreme Court ordered Canada-based Gildan Activewear to immediately give a Honduran sweatshop worker Lilian Castillo her job back. Lilian was fired by Gildan in February 2013 when she was unable to keep up the pace of her teammates on Gildan’s assembly line.

For days, the Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH by its Spanish acronym) has been protesting along with Lilian outside of Gildan’s factory in the town of Choloma. They are demanding that Gildan abide by the Supreme Court decision immediately.

 Photo Caption: Outside of Gildan's factory, CODEMUH and Lilian demand that Gildan respect Lilian's labor rights. Picture by CODEMUH

Photo Caption: Outside of Gildan's factory, CODEMUH and Lilian demand that Gildan respect Lilian's labor rights. Picture by CODEMUH

With a garment production quota of 500 dozen per day, Lilian conducted thousands of repetitive movements during each 12-hour work shift, sewing the sleeves on Gildan shirts. Slowly and inevitably as a result of the work conditions, she developed tendinitis in her left shoulder. As a result, she faced harassment inside the factory, as she was unable to keep up Gildan’s demanding pace. Her supervisors often refused to excuse her from the assembly lines when she complained of extreme pain and inflammation in her shoulder.

Hoping to keep her job and medical benefits, for years Lilian battled the underfunded Honduran healthcare system to get medical evidence of and treatment for her illness which would have forced Gildan to relocate her to a less physically demanding position in the factory. Wanting to disassociate themselves from a worker with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) Gildan fired Lilian. As a result, Lilian lost one of her only employment opportunities (especially since her work-related injury hinders her getting another job), and the important medical benefits she receives as a Gildan worker. CODEMUH has defended dozens of sweatshop workers suffering from work-related MSDs that are fired by U.S. and Canadian companies hoping to stifle any responsibility for the conditions in the factories that give rise to such health harms.

Today, Lilian and CODEMUH demand that Gildan put their so-called “corporate social responsibility” policies to practice. Together with CODEMUH, Lilian fought her case for three years in Honduras courts, all the way to the Supreme Court. On March 2, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered Gildan to immediately reinstate Lilian. To date, Gildan has not compiled and Lilian has a court date tomorrow (Wednesday, May 25) where she will find out whether Gildan will reinstate her.

Call, Email and Tweet Gildan Activewear (@GildanOnline; #GildanActivewear) and demand that:

1.     Gildan immediately (not in two months, not in one year, but NOW) give Lilian Castillo her job back;

2.     Place Lilian in a position in the factory that does not exacerbate her tendinitis and that meets the labor reinstatement standards as outlined and ordered by the Honduran courts plural;

3.     Compensate Lilian for all unpaid salaries since February 2013 when she was fired, as per the court [’s resolution] order might be clearer for North American readers.

As CODEMUH and Lilian say: WE WANT JOBS, BUT WITH DIGNITY!

Send emails to and call:

Peter Iliopulos

Gildan Senior Vice President of Public and Corporate Affairs

piliopoulos@gildan.comx

 

Anik Trudel 

Vice-President, Corporate Communications

Gildan Media Relations- Head Office (Montreal, Canada)

 (514) 340-8919

atrudel@gildan.com

 

Claudia Sandoval, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship

Gildan Media Relations – Honduras

(504) 2669-6638

csandoval@gildan.com

 

Please send copies of emails to:

Karen Spring, spring.kj@gmail.com

Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH), mujeresfem@codemuh.hn

 Photo caption: Lilian Castillo giving an interview to local media while protesting outside of Gildan's factory with CODEMUH. Picture by CODEMUH.

Photo caption: Lilian Castillo giving an interview to local media while protesting outside of Gildan's factory with CODEMUH. Picture by CODEMUH.

 

 

 

 

 

The World Bank, U.S. Intervention and Human Rights in the Aguan Valley: A Conversation with Annie Bird

Less than two months ago, indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, the General Coordinator of COPINH was murdered in her home in La Esperanza. Her murder is thought to be linked to her outspoken criticism of the Honduran government and COPINH’s struggle to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam project, Agua Zarca on the Gualcarque river by international-financed Honduran firm, DESA. Berta is one of hundreds of activists and land defenders that have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 military coup.

The Aguan Valley region in northern Honduras has been a hotbed of land conflict and the center of violence, muder and militarization in the country in the last few years. Various campesino movements have been fighting for the rights of hundreds of families to access and own land that is claimed by three large land owners and companies including Dinant Corporation, owned by the Facussé family.

One positive development in the Aguan was the declaration of freedom granted to Jose Isabel Morales “Chavelo” who spent seven years in prison related to a land dispute waged by the campesino community of Guadalupe Carney, home to the Movimiento Campesino de Aguan (MCA). Chavelo’s freedom was one of few victories for the campesino movement in the Aguan as well as national and international solidarity activists, including Berta Cáceres, and organizations that also worked for Chavelo’s freedom.

Despite this small victory, there is still a lot of struggles to support and very difficult circumstances for many campesino movement and land defenders in the region. Below is an interview with a long-time activist, Annie Bird who worked for over 15-years with U.S. and Canada-based Rights Action, but that has since left Rights Action to start her own initiative, Rights and Ecology. Annie has been involved in documenting the human rights violations in the Aguan valley since 2009.

This interview was conducted on October 22, 2015 but many of the topics discussed are still very relevant today.

 The Aguan river.

The Aguan river.

1. What are some of the challenges facing the campesino movements in the Aguan Valley today?

Annie: I think that campesino movements in the Aguan is at its most difficult and challenging moment right now, than it has been in many years because there is a concerted effort to essentially destroy the movements, even some of the oldest and strongest cooperatives which is being fueled by outside funding to promote Model City in the area, a Special Development Zone. And then with the presence of Columbian paramilitary groups that are specifically targeting the few campesino movements that still have land, MUCA and historic cooperatives, pressuring them to individualize land titles to facilitate the sale of the land titles in the same way that happened in the 1990s. And so, that is also accompanied by criminalization and its of course fabulous and amazing that Chabelos is free, but just a week ago [October 2015], another campesino leader from MUCA, Santos Lemos was arrested and put into prison on false charges of murder as part of a criminalization campaign related to a paramilitary group that is operating in the region. Criminalization will likely increase as there is more pressure from international investors in the region who are interested in taking over campesino land.

2. Can you elaborate more on the interests in constructing a Model City in the region? How do people know these interests exist and what exactly are they?

Annie: They know its related to Model Cities, because some of the investors that have approached them [campesino movements] and have expressed that explicitly. There is also a new investment model being promoted by INA [National Agrarian Institute] to fund campesino organizations, but essentially locking them into contracts in partnership with transnationals where they have a minority control of the business, of course reducing their profits and their pay.

Government officials have also said they are interested in promoting the largest palm oil agro-industrial zone in the world, including bigger than Indonesia, in the region, in the Bajo Aguan, the Sico Valley and probably La Moskitia. This is being said very explicitly. Also another element of that is the implementation of the water law, which is being piloted in the Aguan. They are implementing a decentralized water plan, which is an attempt to regionalize the state and put services in the hands of corporations that invest in the area.

What I’m beginning to sense and needs further investigation, the implementation of Model Cities is going to happen in a much more piecemeal way that we think so that small actions like decentralization of water, and shifts in the way that INA manages land and investment in the region are likely going to be the first signs of implementations of the Model Cities. Not necessary declaring a whole area as a Model City in an abrupt, radical change in governance.

3. During your time with Rights Action, and now with your current organization, Rights and Ecology, you have worked alongside partner organizations based in the Aguan Valley to push forward an investigation of the World Bank/IFC loans to Dinant. What is happening with the World Bank International Finance Corporation investigation? Has there been any legitimate and profound change since the IFC began investigating Dinant and its involvement in human rights violations in the Aguan?

Annie: I’m not even sure what to call what the IFC is doing in the Aguan – I wouldn’t necessarily call it an investigation. It is essentially coordination between a lot of different sectors in the government and in the region with this idea of addressing some of the governance challenges – I guess they would phrase it. So for example, trying to work with Dinant to make their security forces being more respectful of human rights but what we are actually seeing is, that, that has pushed repression into two directions: one is downsizing the role of private security and promoting more presence of the military which is just as bad or worse, and also more paramilitary activity which is also worse because that has less direct impact on the company. So that is just one example.

The other part is about land that there is not really much transparency about what the World Bank is doing about financing African palm corporations and given that the high interest in investing in the region, there are questions about where that is coming from. Another thing that is clear is that there has been no movement so far to help campesino movements be able to come to agreements about land purchases or revalue the land that they have already purchased or get lower interest. All of those things are at the point of forcing movements to stop payments to the lose of the land at any time, so basically, what we have seen so far is the failure to address the problem in anyway and made it worse. There are a lot of different approaches that we are thinking through about ways of address this.

Most of what I’ve been doing is monitoring what the Bank has been doing, and most of what we have seen has been negative.

4. What do you and your partners hope will come of this investigation and other work being done to denounce the role of the IFIs in financing palm companies in Honduras?

Annie: We hope that we can continue to pressure the Banks and hopefully in stronger ways and that that could hopefully – and also bring out to the public more about the violence and paramilitary activity that is part of what is going on in the region.

5. You were the principal author and researcher of the impressive Bird Report in 2012 documenting hundreds of human rights abuses in the Aguan Valley, particularly those related to the 15th Battalion and U.S. role in the region. Can you give us an update of the human rights situation in relation to U.S. policy in the region since the report’s publication?

Annie: I think since that report was published, the number of killings dropped a lot all of a sudden at the end of 2013, probably because of all the international attention but what happened is that other kinds of repression increased like criminalization and operation of paramilitary groups that intimidate people. So there is still a very tense situation – killings have happened. On August 30 [2015], the son of a MUCA member was killed in a similar way that others have occurred, while he was waiting for a bus at 8:30 in the morning. Then a MOCRA member, Rodriguez was killed on September 3rd [2015] as he was on his bicycle going to cut palm for his work and Rodriguez was also pursued last year by the Xatruch Task Force, they chased him through a palm field into the town and fired over 300 shots, the school had to be evacuated and the same person was killed on September 3rd. The discourse of the government that is out there, is a way of taking the responsibility away from the palm companies, is that the government got land for the campesinos but then they began to kill each other over the disputes. And this is obviously false, and killings by paramilitary groups are being passed off as killings by campesinos. and MUCA members have nothing to do with the violence are being dragged into the issue and blamed and even arrested. Miguel Pacheco, the President of Lempira was arrested in August [2015] and charged with a murder that happened on a day while he was in a meeting with INA [National Agrarian Institute] in another part of the country with Cesar Ham, the Ministry of INA and so luckily because he was in the meeting, they were able to show that, and he was released. But then not long ago, just two weeks ago, Santos Lemos the leader of La Aurora was arrested and in jail now and being charged for murder that his neighborhoods say he had nothing to do with. So there are different kinds of repression being used now.

The role of the U.S. – at the time I wrote the report it was clear that the U.S. Special operations command had trained the 15th Battalion in the Aguan, which had so much articulation with the private security forces. And so that is something that needs to be looked into but there continues to be reports that there are U.S. soldiers on the base.