Wendy Avila: Killed by Tear Gas & Policies Made in the USA

Wendy's grave stone: "October 24, 1984 to September 26, 2009. Let your spilled blood be the light that illuminates the path to people's liberation. As long as you live in the minds and hearts of our people, you will never be dead."

Wendy's grave stone: "October 24, 1984 to September 26, 2009. Let your spilled blood be the light that illuminates the path to people's liberation. As long as you live in the minds and hearts of our people, you will never be dead."

Seven years ago today, Wendy Elizabeth Avila died in a hospital in Tegucigalpa from respiratory problems. Suffering from severe asthma, Wendy's lungs were unable to withstand the excessive amounts of tear gas that Honduran security forces fired at the Honduran resistance on September 23rd, a few days after overthrown President Manuel Zelaya turned up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Thousands of people including Wendy gathered to welcome Zelaya back into the country.

Wendy was killed in the context of multiple efforts at "negotiations" between Zelaya and the coup regime of Roberto Micheletti, that by intended design, failed miserable. Prevented from returning to Honduras after the June 28, 2009 coup, Zelaya attempted to return to the country via the Nicaraguan-Honduran border in July 2009. The U.S., led by Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, called this move "reckless" on Zelaya's part. Clinton made no mention of the reckless and intentional strategies of the coup regime that imposed days of military curfews and were responsible for multiple cases of illegal detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings as Hondurans fled to the Nicaraguan border to meet their overthrown President. Wendy included.

What was being discussed and managed on an international diplomatic level after the coup was like night-and-day from what was happening on the ground in Honduras. Clinton's office promoted the false and unfair "negotiation" process that did not reflect in any way the national reality for the Hondurans in the streets. Hundreds of deaths immediately after the coup, including Wendy's, are reminders of just how bloody US policy in Honduras really is.

IMF Policies & the Privatization of the National Energy Company Hits Honduran Households

A hot topic of discussion and protest at the moment is the new policies related to the distribution of electrical energy in Honduras. All over the country, people are infuriated by the power outages, higher energy prices and the extra tariffs being added to electrical bills.

An announcement was recently made by the new private company, Energy Company Honduras (EEH by its Spanish acronym) that 250,000 pre-paid electrical meters will be installed in houses where users have not been diligent paying their bills or in areas where electricity is siphoned off from small transmission lines. In other words, meters are expected to be installed in poor neighborhoods where families struggling to pay electric bills simply cannot pay for the rising cost of electricity.

A picture of an ENEE bill that is circulating on social media. The bill includes an extra charge of 2000 Lps (~$90 USD) that is being said is a "payment guarantee"

A picture of an ENEE bill that is circulating on social media. The bill includes an extra charge of 2000 Lps (~$90 USD) that is being said is a "payment guarantee"

EEH is a Colombian-Honduran company that took over energy distribution from the now-privatized National Electrical Energy Company (ENEE) and began operations last month. One Honduran entity part of EEH is the Union of the ENEE workers (STENEE) led by ex-STENEE President, Miguel Aguilar.

EEH won the internationally bidding process late last year that was adjudicated by the Promotion for Public-Private Alliances (COALIANZA), an institution that was created in 2010 as part of the neoliberal policies ushered in by the post-coup regime of Porfirio Lobo. COALIANZA has since been involved in auctioning off infrastructure projects and national institutions including the ENEE, the shipping ports, and major Honduran highways amongst others, to private companies. But it hasn’t worked alone. What Honduran households are really experiencing with the increases in tariffs and the installation of energy meters, are the impacts of the privatization of the ENEE led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

EEH is facing serious pressure from all over the country as a result of their own policies but also because Honduran households are now staring a privatized energy system and its consequences square in the face: rising energy prices, no state subsidies; and for-profit policy decisions by private companies.

The IMF begins talks with governments long before agreements are signed. An obsession of the IMF and other International Financial Institutions (IFIs) for a long time has been the privatization of ENEE. According to a report written by a consultant contracted by the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) in November 2014, “The Government of Honduras reached an agreement with the IMF in the month of October and one of the principle IMF requirements is that it executes an adjustment plan that guarantees that the [energy] sector is profitable and financially sustainable at the time, as a measure of reducing the fiscal deficit.” The report goes on to highlight financial and technical reviews and evaluations of ENEE carried out by US firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and DES Consulting, most of which were paid for by the IFIs themselves. 

The report also mentions that the ENEE “has been strongly deteriorating since 2010” but it didn’t go into much detail as of why. When the topic was discussed in the media, losses on the transmission lines or high number of ENEE employees and the burden of their salaries are cited as reasons why the economic situation of the company was so dire. Although these reasons may be partially true, they certainty cannot explain all of ENEE’s problems.

After the 2009 military coup, an interesting list of unpaid ENEE bills between 1999 and 2009 circulated in the social networks. I wonder if ENEE executives (the majority of which are appointed by the political party in power) went knocking on the doors of the following companies with debt to ENEE?:  Shell, Honduras – Owing 79, 961,111 Lps; Lovable de Honduras (Owned by wealthy Canahuati family) – Owing 96 million lempiras; and Quimicas Dinant (owned by wealthy Facusse family) - owing 126 million, amongst other transnationals and companies owned by the 10-12 families of the wealthy Honduran elite.

Its also worth mentioning that many family members of the National party were given key ENEE management positions after the 2009 coup: Rina Maria Oliva Brizio, daughter of the current President of Congress, Mauricio Oliva given a salary of $56,942 lempiras ($2,486)/month and Margi Graciana Hernandez Padilla, President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s niece maintained a salary of 77,695 Lps ($3,393)/month amongst others. Also, no effort is made to address the hefty and overpriced contracts granted by the Honduran National Congress to thermal companies owned by the wealthiest families of Honduras such as Canahuati, Kafie, and Nasser. 

Instead of addressing the mismanagement of ENEE and the expensive contracts for thermal energy generation, the willing post-coup Honduran regime gave into pressure from the IMF and other IFIs and privatized the state company by passing an important law in January 2013. Now ENEE has been split into three parts: energy generation, transmission and distribution, and as a consequence, in 2014 and 2015 hundreds of public ENEE employees were laid off.

So far, a private company has only taken over distribution (defined as management of electricity from the substations to households). In terms of energy generation, a large number of solar, wind, and dams are being constructed and generated electricity will be sold to ENEE. I would expect as more dams are built by private companies, electricity prices will increase. This is terrible news for Honduran families that unfortunately, have yet to see the full impact of the privatization of their energy company. 

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.