In the News in July & August

Three articles were published in the months of July & August that highlight issues that myself and the HSN work on. Check them out:

THE GUARDIAN: US Investigating Allegations Honduran Military had Hitlist of Activists to Target

By: Ed Pilkington and Nina Lakhani

Military police personnel raid dwellings in search of leaders of the MS-13 gang in Tegucigalpa on 20 May 2016. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Military police personnel raid dwellings in search of leaders of the MS-13 gang in Tegucigalpa on 20 May 2016. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

The US government is investigating allegations that a hitlist of activists was circulated to special forces units of the Honduran military with instructions to eliminate the targets, including Berta Cáceres, the celebrated environmental campaigner who was later gunned down in her home.

US officials have been in contact with counterparts in the Honduran government, as well as individuals and groups that monitor human rights in the country, to look into the allegations of a hitlist that were first reported in the Guardian.

The US ambassador to Honduras, James Nealon, told the Guardian: “We take allegations of human rights abuses with the utmost seriousness. We always take immediate action to ensure the security and safety of people where there is a credible threat.”

THE GUARDIAN: Did Hillary Clinton stand by as Honduras coup ushered in era of violence?

By: Nina Lakhani

A pedestrian walks past a row of soldiers near the presidential palace following a coup d’etat that saw President Manuel Zelaya ousted in Tegucigalpa on 28 June 2009. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

A pedestrian walks past a row of soldiers near the presidential palace following a coup d’etat that saw President Manuel Zelaya ousted in Tegucigalpa on 28 June 2009. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

It was the early hours of the morning, and protesters who had gathered to support their deposed president were resting in the streets of the Honduran capital when the security forces attacked.

Three months after he was snatched by troops and unceremoniously expelled from the country, Manuel Zelaya had returned to Tegucigalpa and taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Thousands of his supporters flocked to the mission, intending to stay there until he was able to resume power.

Agustina Flores, 46, had gone in search of coffee when the shooting began. Police fired water cannons and dropped teargas grenades from helicopters into the sleeping crowds.

“The police and soldiers were firing rubber and live bullets into the crowd, beating women and the elderly. One [tear gas] grenade exploded near me; after that I blacked out.”

NOW (Toronto): Gravedigging for gold

By: Adria Vasil

Blockade near ancient cemetery where Toronto-based Aura Minerals wants to expand its gold mining operations in Honduras. photo: Karen Spring

Blockade near ancient cemetery where Toronto-based Aura Minerals wants to expand its gold mining operations in Honduras. photo: Karen Spring

What's a gold pendant or ring worth in the grand scheme of things? If you're living in the path of a Canadian gold mining company in Azacualpa, Honduras, the cost includes digging up a local cemetery where six communities have been burying their dead for two centuries.

Since the late 90s, three successive Canadian mining companies have operated the open-pit San Andres gold mine in the highlands of western Honduras. The mine's history hasn't been pretty: cyanide spills, health complaints and forced displacements. 

Its latest owner, Toronto-based Aura Minerals Inc., which acquired the mine in 2009, announced earlier this month that it had finally cut a deal with the community, securing a "social license agreement" around moving the cemetery and relocating 139 families from the community into new homes in the vicinity. 

Company CEO James Bannantine heralded the agreement as a glittering example of corporate social responsibility, saying in a statement to the press: "We have aligned ourselves with international, Canadian and Honduran law and ensured good governance and respect for the environment, employment and human rights."

US Human Rights Delegation in Honduras Denounces Repression and Impunity Calls for an End to US Military and Police Funding

Our press conference outside of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, July 5, 2016. See below for the full video of the press conference.

Our press conference outside of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, July 5, 2016. See below for the full video of the press conference.

Tegucigalpa, July 5, 2016

A delegation of US human rights observers and activists that has been Honduras from June 27-July 6, organized by Alliance for Global Justice and Honduras Solidarity Network, will report on their findings. The delegation includes participants associated with CODEPINK, the Marin Interfaith Task Force, SEIU Local 521, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, San Jose Peace and Justice Center, and Global Exchange.

Delegation visiting Tolupan community San Francisco de Locomapa, Yoro, and accompanying the Broad Movement for Justice and Dignity (MADJ by Spanish acronym).

Delegation visiting Tolupan community San Francisco de Locomapa, Yoro, and accompanying the Broad Movement for Justice and Dignity (MADJ by Spanish acronym).

Visiting the Wednesday evening protests at the international-financed tollroad in San Manuel, Cortes.

Visiting the Wednesday evening protests at the international-financed tollroad in San Manuel, Cortes.

The delegation visited a Tolupan community in San Francisco de Locomapa, a San Manuel Cortez toll road protest outside Progreso and the student occupation at the UNAH-VS campus at San Pedro Sula. Also in San Pedro Sula they met with CODEMUH, the women’s collective supporting workers in factories producing apparel for well-known US brands, factories where workers have no job protection and are frequently injured and then fired. The group traveled to Azacualpa to examine the conflict surrounding the Canadian-owned San Andres mine in La Union, Copan and spoke to the mayor of La Union. They went to La Esperanza to meet with COPINH (the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras) and the family of Berta Caceres, participated in a vigil marking the 4th month since her murder, then traveled to Rio Blanco, where communities are fighting the Agua Zarca dam. They talked to a Vitalino Alvarez, a representative from MUCA (the United Campesino Movement of the Aguan) about the struggles in the Bajo Aguan. Alvarez has survived four assassination attempts and says that he is now number one on the Honduran death squad hit list.

The group also met with US military representatives of Joint Task Force Bravo at Palmerola and representatives of the US Embassy, as well as Honduran public prosecutors in San Pedro Sula who were part of the recent Operation “Cacique” alongside the elite police unit TIGRES and the Police Investigative Unit (DPI).

In front of the house of the mayor of La Unión, Copan with community members and environmentalists from the community of Azacualpa that are fighting to protect their 200-year old cemetery under threat by the expansion of Canadian mining company, Aura Minerals. Sign reads: "Mr. Mayor. The community of Azacualpa demands: no to the closure of their cemetery."

In front of the house of the mayor of La Unión, Copan with community members and environmentalists from the community of Azacualpa that are fighting to protect their 200-year old cemetery under threat by the expansion of Canadian mining company, Aura Minerals. Sign reads: "Mr. Mayor. The community of Azacualpa demands: no to the closure of their cemetery."

Visiting Berta Caceres' mother, Doña Austra Berta Flores and family at her house in La Esperanza.

Visiting Berta Caceres' mother, Doña Austra Berta Flores and family at her house in La Esperanza.

The delegation was struck by the ongoing negative consequences of the 2009 coup, which the US government supported by continuing US military and development assistance. The coup opened the way for the granting of hundreds of concessions for mines, dams, energy-generation and other infrastructure projects that have taken land and resources from local communities. It has also led to the privatization of Honduran highways, public institutions and natural resources, actions that have been strongly condemned by large sectors of the Honduran public.

The delegation’s major concerns include:

  • ongoing human rights abuses against indigenous activists, campesinos, members of the LGBTQ community, maquiladora women, students and journalists.
  • high levels of impunity and corruption rampant in state judicial and security institutions.
  • the strong US involvement in military and police institutions known for ongoing human rights violations.
  • abusive conditions in apparel factories making goods for export to the United States.
  • the inadequate investigation into the murder of Honduran indigenous activist, Berta Cáceres, including the refusal by the authorities to release the case file to the family as required by Honduran law and the government’s refusal to comply with the demand for an independent, international investigation.
  • the criminalization of university students who are defending their right to public education.
  • the noncompliance of the Honduran government in providing protective measures (“medidas cautulares”) granted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights defenders at risk.
  • the threatened forced displacement of the Azacualpa community, including the destruction of their 200-year-old ancestral cemetery.

We support:

  • the Honduran students in their a call for no fee hikes, elected student representatives on the Governing Board, and an immediate dialogue with University Rector Julieta Casteñeda.
  • the indigenous communities in their fight to defend their land, water and forests, and their right to free, prior and informed consent as granted under the International Labor Organization Convention Number 169.
  • the right of campesinos to organize without fear of harassment, threats and bodily harm.
  • the cancellation of the dam concession and financing to Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA) for building the Agua Zarca dam.
  • the immediate closure of the San Andres mine in Copan, as well as the suspension of mining and energy concessions that communities have not consented to.

We are concerned that the US Congress approved $750 million under the Alliance for Prosperity for development and police/military aid in the region at a time when gross human rights abuses and impunity in Honduras were well documented and reported. We feel this money has further exacerbated the crisis.

The US 2016 budget allocates approximately $18,000,000 to the Honduran police and military, and President Obama’s funding request for fiscal year 2017 calls for an increase in security funding for Honduras.This money, which is supposed to reduce human rights violations, is actually giving the Honduran government more resources to increase repression.

We therefore call on the US government to cut all military and police funding, as stipulated in the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, HR5474, which is now before Congress. This delegation will return home to pressure Congress and the State Department to stop the flow of our tax dollars to these repressive Honduran institutions.

On July 2, the 4th anniversary of the assassination of Berta Caceres, we joined the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) outside of the Public Prosecutor's office in La Esperanza. They were demanding justice for Berta's death. 

On July 2, the 4th anniversary of the assassination of Berta Caceres, we joined the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) outside of the Public Prosecutor's office in La Esperanza. They were demanding justice for Berta's death. 

At COPINH's training centre, UTOPIA in La Esperanza. The mural in the back was painted shortly after Berta was killed. We went to various places throughout the day to take pictures and join in the International Twitter campaign organized by Berta's family and COPINH to demand justice for Berta and an International independent Commission of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to join the investigation. July 4, 2016.

At COPINH's training centre, UTOPIA in La Esperanza. The mural in the back was painted shortly after Berta was killed. We went to various places throughout the day to take pictures and join in the International Twitter campaign organized by Berta's family and COPINH to demand justice for Berta and an International independent Commission of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to join the investigation. July 4, 2016.

ESPANOL (La versión mas pequeña y leida durante la conferencia de prensa)

Comunicado de Prensa: Delegación Estadounidense de Derechos Humanos en Honduras Denuncia Represión e Impunidad y Llama al Cese del Financiamiento Militar y Policial

Tegucigalpa, 5 de Julio 2016

La delegación estadounidense de observadores y activistas que visitó Honduras del junio 27 al 6 de julio organizado por la Alianza por la Justicia Global y la Red de Solidaridad de Honduras, reportará sobre sus descubrimientos.

Esta delegación está compuesta por participantes asociados de CODEPINK, el Grupo de Trabajo Interreligioso Marin, SEIU Local 521, la Liga Internacional de las Mujeres por la Paz y la Libertad, el Centro por el Establecimientos de la Paz de la Universidad de Marquette en Wisconsin, el Centro de Paz y Justicia de San José y Global Exchange.

La delegación visitó la comunidad Tolupán en San Francisco de Locomapa en Yoro, una protesta en contra del peaje en la carreta de San Manuel, Cortés, la toma estudiantil del campus de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) en San Pedro Sula, las organizaciones CODEMUH, COPINH, y la comunidad de Azacualpa para examinar el conflicto alrededor de la mina canadiense "San Andrés" en Copán. El grupo también habló con representantes de la Fuerza Especial Conjunta Bravo en Palmerola y con la Embajada de los Estados Unidos.

La delegación está impresionada por las consecuencias negativas del golpe del 2009, el cual fue apoyado por el gobierno de Estados Unidos al continuar su ayuda militar y para el sector de desarrollo. Observaron cómo el golpe ha llevado a la privatización de las autopistas hondureñas, instituciones públicas y recursos naturales, así como al incremento de la corrupción e impunidad en el sistema judicial e instituciones de defensa.

Estamos en asombro ante los abusos contra los derechos humanos de activistas indígenas, campesinos, mujeres que trabajan en la industria maquiladora y estudiantes.

Apoyamos:

  • A los estudiantes en su llamado en contra del plan de arbitrios, una universidad libre de armas, retiro de requerimientos fiscales y acusaciones contra estudiantes y demandando representación estudiantil en el Consejo Universitario, y un diálogo inmediato con la Rectora de la Universidad Julieta Castellaños.
  • A las comunidades indígenas en su lucha por defender la tierra, el agua y los bosques, y su derecho a una consulta libre, abierta e informada como les concede el Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo.
  • El derecho a los campesinos a organizarse sin miedo a amenazas, acoso y daños a su integridad.
  • La cancelación de la concesión y financiamiento a Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA) por construir la represa Agua Zarca, la creación de una Comisión Independiente que investigue el caso de la lidereza Bertha Cáceres y se de acceso a su familia a la investigación.
  • El cierre inmediato de la mina San Andrés en Copán, así como la suspensión de la minería y concesiones energéticas en comunidades que no han dado su consentimiento.

Nos preocupa gravemente el nivel de involucramiento de los Estados Unidos con las fuerzas militares y policiales. El dinero y entrenamiento estadounidense que se supone debe detener las violaciones a derechos humanos está al contrario brindándole al gobierno de Honduras más recursos para incrementar la represión.

También nos preocupa la aprobación de 750 millones de dólares bajo el Plan de la Alianza para la Prosperidad dirigida al desarrollo y ayuda militar y policial en la región en un momento cuando graves abusos a los derechos e impunidad en Honduras son ampliamente reportados y documentados. Sentimos que este dinero ha exacerbado la crisis aún más.

Con el horrible nivel de violencia e impunidad en Honduras hoy, el gobierno de los Estados Unidos debería cortar toda ayuda militar y policial, como lo propone la Legislación de Derechos Humanos Berta Cáceres en Honduras, HR5474. Esta delegación regresará a su país a presionar al Congreso y al Departamento de Estado para un cese al flujo de dólares de nuestros impuestos a estas instituciones represivas.

New Report - Mining in a State of Impunity: Coerced Negotiations and Forced Displacement by Aura Minerals in Western Honduras

(Ottawa/Tegucigalpa) A new report outlines the continuing struggle of the Honduran community of Azacualpa to defend the integrity of the town, including a 200-year old cemetery, against the expansion of a Canadian-owned open-pit gold mine.

Mining In a State of Impunity: Coerced Negotiations and Forced Displacement by Aura Minerals in Western Honduras published by MiningWatch Canada and the Honduras Solidarity Network, documents how the Canadian mining companies that have operated the San Andrés mine in western Honduras have continually violated the land rights and communally-held land tenure of affected communities for the last 18 years.

Neither Honduran authorities nor Toronto-based Aura Minerals, now the concession holder and operator of the mine, even acknowledge that the community has such rights. The report notes that “municipal authorities and the mining company make no mention of Azacualpa’s land rights and the details of the original mining concession granted in 1983.”

Aura Minerals is now “negotiating” with Azacualpa to expand the mining operation. The report states, “It’s difficult if not impossible to call this process a “negotiation” as the community is clearly being coerced.” The report’s author, Karen Spring, Honduras Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network, explained, “Community leaders have publicly denounced the presence of Honduran military and police in the so-called ‘negotiations’.”

Spring adds, “This is a clear sign of intimidation in a country with rampant levels of corruption and a high impunity rate. Nineteen residents involved in defending the community cemetery still face trumped up charges and threats of further legal repercussions if they continue to protest the mine’s expansion.”

The report makes a series of recommendations, including calling for a comprehensive legal analysis regarding land tenure and land transfer before “negotiations” move forward or the San Andrés mine expands further, and calling for all six affected communities be fully consulted on whether they agree with the expansion of the mine and the displacement of their cemetery. The report also emphasizes that it is critical to develop and document a better understanding of the history of communities forcibly displaced by the San Andrés mine as the basis for any future discussion.

Contact:

Allegations of World Bank-Funded Dinant Corporation's Drug Trafficking Ties Surface Again

The Honduran public prosecutor's office reported in a June 23th communique that "three houses, two lots of land and 10 vehicles" were confiscated during the Inter-Institutional "Venado" [Deer] Security Operation in the Aguan Valley, Colon in northern Honduras. The assets belonged to José Angel Bonilla Banegas, a former contractor with Dinant Corporation, a Honduran snack food and agricultural company. The Honduran media is reporting that Bonilla Banegas is a Dinant employee.

According to Honduran officials, Bonilla Banegas "is the owner of the Bonilla Transport Company and according to the investigations, as a result of their illicit activities had acquired 10 vehicles (trucks, trailer cabs and pick up) used to facilitate the passage of narcotics from Colon to the Guatemalan border and money from the Guatemalan border to Colon." The Honduran authorities determined that Bonilla Transport "formed part of the structures on a smaller scale with which large criminal groups like "Los Cachiros" in Colon and the "Valle Valle" in Copan, counted on." In 2013 and 2014, the US Treasury requested the extradition of members of Los Cachiros and the Valle Valle cartels operating in northern Honduras.

Photo caption: The Venado Operation in the Aguan, El Tiempo

Photo caption: The Venado Operation in the Aguan, El Tiempo

On the day of the arrests, Dinant Corporation released a public statement stating that Bonilla Banegas "is not, and has never been, an employee of the company nor any affiliated companies ... While it is true, Bonilla Transport has provided outsourced freight services to Dinant between 2012 and 2013."

The Honduran media reports that authorities traced Bonilla Banegas' involvement in trafficking drugs via the capture of Jose Cristobal Pineda Gonzalez, who was arrested by authorities in La Ceibita, Santa Barbara in March 2015. Pineda Gonzalez was driving a large truck owned by Bonilla Transport with false compartments containing 1,438 kilos of drugs. Some press reports report that cocaine was seized while others report it was marijuana. The drugs were being taken to Guatemala.

The operation that led to the seizures was carried out by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime (FESCCO), the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation (ATIC) and the "Xatruch" Military Operation. The former two Honduran agencies have themselves been accused of major irregularities including launching biased investigations and human rights abuses against political opponents of the Juan Orlando Hernandez government. Commanders of the Xatruch Military operation have been trained by the U.S. and ATIC agents are vetted and trained by the US and Canada as well. 

Dinant Corporation is well-known for its involvement in land conflicts related to its African palm plantations that have been connected to various human rights violations including assassinations, disappearances, torture, threats, etc. against campesino leaders and movements in the Lower Aguan region. The International Financial Corporation (IFC), the private-lending arm of the World Bank, is currently carrying out an internal auditing process of their $30 million loan to Dinant as a result of accusations of the company's involvement in the abuses. The IFC has admitted itself that it failed in implementing its own social and environmental policies when the loan to Dinant was approved.

For years, indigenous and campesino movements have publicly denounced and suspected drug trafficking ties with Dinant Corporation and its vast seas of African palm plantations - perfect for hiding drug laboratories, landing narcoplanes, and drug transfers - that are heavily guarded by private security guards reported to team up with Honduran military and police. Even the U.S. Embassy has reported suspicious drug-related activity linked to Dinant.

Miguel Facusse, FoRmer Executive President of Dinant corporation. Photo from Upsidedownworld.com

Miguel Facusse, FoRmer Executive President of Dinant corporation. Photo from Upsidedownworld.com

In a March 19th, 2004 cable published by Wikileaks, US Ambassador to Honduras Larry Palmer outlines an incident in which a drug plane carrying 1,000 kilos of cocaine originating from Colombia, landed on the Farallones property of Dinant Corporation's Executive President, Miguel Facussé (now deceased). The cable reports that "Facusse's property is heavily guarded and the prospect that individuals were able to access the property and, without authorization, use the airstrip is questionable. In addition, Facusse's report obviously contradicts other information received from the law enforcement source ..." Facusse was also reported to be on-site when the drug plane landed on his property. Farallones is surrounding by seas of African palm plantations with 'Private Property' signs nailed to trees and fences and under heavy guard by armed security personnel.

Its difficult to see drug trafficking busts in Honduras as 'successful' operations.  Many Hondurans and international observers see drug war efforts as cherry-picking - nailing some drug traffickers and cartels while leaving others fully operative, if not empowered by the elimination of the competition. The War on Drugs and militarization has grave consequences for Honduran communities, particularly as it is used as a pretext to target and criminalize indigenous populations and communities that defend their natural resources and territories.