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Honduras Delegation Preliminary Report- Sept 8-19, 2011

Honduras Delegation Preliminary Report- Sept 8-19, 2011

U.S Human Rights Observer Team Leaves Honduras with Troubling Report.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras- Nine U.S human rights observers of the Honduras Solidarity Network returned to the US this week after a twelve day intensive investigation that included visits to the Bajo Aguan/Colón and the departments of Atlantida, Yoro, Cortés and Francisco Morazán. Delegates met with campesino communities and organizations, with military/police representatives in the Bajo Aguan, observed the resistance march on Sept 15th in San Pedro Sula, visited four political prisoners including Enrique Flores Lanza, witnessed the ratification of the statutes for the Frente Amplio (FARP) and met with the new US Ambassador Lisa Kibiske. “We decided to assemble this observer team because of our growing concern for the protection of human rights in Honduras, particularly for those associated with the resistance movement and communities involved in the land struggle of the Aguan Valley. We feel a vital role as US citizens and human rights advocates to monitor the role of the US government and US military in Honduras. We do not agree with the past actions of the US government that supported repressive regimes in Latin America and provided funds to Latin American militaries involved in human rights violations.” Says Tanya Cole of the human rights group Witness for Peace Southwest.

Another goal of the observer team was to evaluate how the Lobo government is complying with the Cartagena Accord. “We know the US was a heavy advocate for the return of Honduras to the OAS and yet it is very apparent to us that the Lobo administration has not effectively completed any of the requirements of the Cartagena accord which were mandatory obligations for Honduras’ re-entry into the OAS. “ quotes Dale Sorensen of the California organization Task Force of the Americas.

Bajo Aguan

During the Observer Team’s time in the Bajo Aguan they met with a variety of campesino communities as well as questioned police and military representatives of Colón. “Before we arrived to the Aguan we had heard so much media reporting within Honduras about the existence of heavily armed campesino groups. We visited several different campesino communities of the MCA, MUCA and MARCA. The only heavily armed groups we saw in the Aguan Valley were the guards of Miguel Facusse, the national police and soldiers of the Xatruch II military unit. The campesinos told us that they want a peaceful resolution of the land conflicts and to be able to live safely and support their families, but that they continue to be terrorized by state security forces and the private armed guards of large land holders.” Stated Vicki Cervantes of Chicago’s La Voz de los de Abajo.  The observer team visited the community of Rigores that was raided in June by the police forces who completed an illegal eviction of hundreds of community members including the burning and destruction of homes, a school and two churches. Just days after the observer team left the Rigores community where some families have returned to their lands, 21 community members were rounded up by police, threatened and tortured.  There were reports of threats made by police also against the “human rights people that were helping them”. A couple of days later police and military of the Xatruch II raided the community again and dragged the 16-year old son of the campesino group’s president into the palm, drenched him in gasoline and threatened to set him on fire.

The delegation also met with the community of Marañones of MUCA -Left Bank who were part of a government agreement in April of 2010 to grant them 11 thousand hectares, part of which they are currently using and cultivating. Since this agreement was made the government has not complied with any of its promises and the community continues to be threatened by the armed guards of Rene Morales and Miguel Facusse as well as having suffered several illegal evictions conducted by the National Police forces. It was brought to the delegates attention that the armed guards of Miguel Facusse and Rene Morales used to have uniforms that clearly demonstrated they were private guards but now they try to dress like campesinos or they arrive with their faces masked. “Our observer teams see several failures of the Honduran state to resolve the conflict in the Bajo Aguan. At the core is the land struggle. The government has not resolved or finalized many of the land titles owed to campesino communities nor have the security forces evicted large landowners from campesino land they are currently occupying. In addition the state security forces not only are unable to prevent the illegal threats, raids and assassinations of campesinos by private armed guards of the large land holders but they often are or seem to be complicit in these activities. “ Says delegate Vicki Cervantes.

Political Prisoners

The delegates visited three prisons including the a prison near La Ceiba, Presidio San Juan in Trujillo and the Juvenile Detention Center El Carmen near San Pedro Sula. All three jails are holding presumed political prisoners from the community of Guadelupe Carney of the Bajo Aguan. Guadelupe Carney was the first campesino community to establish itself in the Bajo Aguan many years ago and is named after the American Jesuit Priest James Guadelupe Carney who was disappeared in Honduras during the 1980’s. Isabel Morales has been held for nearly 3 years without conviction, which in itself is a violation of Honduran law. Also two youths from Guadelupe Carney, Lelis Lemos Martinez (17) and Denis Israel Castro (20) have been held since August of this year. All three prisoners have multiple declarations from witnesses along with forensic evidence that they were not involved in their accused crimes. “During our time in the Bajo Aguan we also heard of dozens of arrest warrants out for campesinos leaders from lands in dispute. We see this as a police tactic of intimidation and illegal detention. Since it can take up to 2 years for a prisoner to see a trial and be proven innocent, or more in the case of Isabel Morales, we see this as a way Honduran security forces are politically and illegally silencing the campesino movements of the Aguan Valley.” Says Tanya Cole. The observer team also met with Enrique Flores Lanza, under house arrest in Tegucigalpa. “The detention of Lanza is a direct violation of the Cartegena accord which called for the return of all exiles without fear of prosecution. We also are aware of four other exiles from the coup that have since been forced to leave the country again after the Cartagena agreement was signed.” Says Brian Stefan of the Cleveland group Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America.

September 15th 

On September 15th the team witnessed a peaceful, upbeat and spirited march of the resistance in San Pedro Sula. Hardly any police presence was seen but reports were heard of police tanks standing by just blocks away from the march.  Delegates heard testimonies from participants of last year’s march that left one person dead and many injured. The observer team had just left Tocoa, Colón the day before where the resistance march was blocked by police on the 15th.The team had to make preparations for tear gas and emergency evacuation by using scarves soaked in vinegar and keeping an evacuation vehicle close by. “With so many thousands of people including children and elderly participating in the march it is horrifying to imagine how police used massive amounts tear gas against the crowds last year.” Says delegate Sara Kohgadai of San Francisco, CA.

 FNRP and FARP

The team also was witness to the ratification of the statutes for the new political party the  FARP (Frente Amplio) on Sept 17th at the assembly of the FNRP in Tegucigalpa. “It is exciting to see the movement toward more popular political participation in Honduras. Yet it concerns us greatly that just within weeks of the FARP’s official formation as a political party we heard of the deaths of three leaders of the FNRP including Nahum Guerra of Santa Barbara, Emo Sadloo of Tegucigalpa and Medardo Flores of San Pedro Sula. A main component of the Cartagena Accord is that the FNRP be able to move forward as a legitimate political force. We do not see how the FARP can freely participate in the democratic process under such a severe climate of politically motivated assassinations.” Says delegate Tanya Cole.

Garifuna 

The team also visited the Garifuna community of Triumfo de la Cruz near Tela, Cortés and met with representatives of the Garifuna Hospital near La Ceiba. “Our team saw similarities with the struggle of Garifuna communities to stay on their rightful lands with that of the campesino communities of the Aguan. It seems that large land owners like Miguel Facusse have disrespected legal land titles held by the Garifuna and started mega tourism projects on Garifuna land.” Stated delegate Corinthian Davis of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network. “The Garifuna told us that they are not against development or progress but that development should come from within the community and benefit the community. We saw an example of that with the construction of the only Garifuna Hospital in Honduras. An amazing accomplishment that came from the community, benefits the community and that unfortunately received no help from the government.,” remarked Ms. Davis.

US Embassy

In the team’s last official day in Honduras they held a meeting with the new US Ambassador Lisa Kibiske, who has been in Honduras only for a few weeks. “We felt it was of vital importance to report our concerns for human rights in Honduras to the new US Ambassador. While we were in the Aguan, sergeants (of the Xatruch II military units) of the Xatruch Special Forces participating in the Xatruch II operation confirmed they had received training from the United States military in special operations, which include sniper and anti-terrorism training. Just moments after leaving the Ambassador’s office we heard the reports of the Xatruch II military and police agents raid against the Aguan campesino community of Rigores - the second violent raid in four days” Says Vicki Cervantes. In May of this year the Honduras Solidarity Network, a broad nationwide network of organizations and individuals concerned for human rights in Honduras, worked to get 87 members of congress to sign a letter condemning human rights violations in Honduras. The letter specifically asked for a halt in US military and police aid to Honduras and for the US Embassy to speak out against human rights violations in Honduras. When asked if the US Embassy has responded to this request from the US congress, Ambassador Kubiske responded. “There is a time to speak out and a time not to.” Tanya Cole adds, “It seemed during our entire meeting at the US Embassy the Ambassador was unwilling to admit there exists politically motivated killings in Honduras. We need the US Embassy to take a true stand for human rights in Honduras. It worries us the U.S may want to pretend everything is fine in Honduras so that they may continue with US military sales and business relations as usual.”

Recommendations 

Preliminary recommendations from the September Observer Team’s findings are 1. International Human Rights Organizations increase their attention on Honduras as the electoral process is pursued by the FARP and the land struggle continues in the Aguan Basin of Honduras. 2. That US congress and State Department take concrete and public action to condemn human right violations in Honduras and withhold military/police aid from Honduras while Honduran military and police agents continue to be complicit in forced disappearances, illegal raids, illegal detentions and human rights violations across the country.

Contacts:

Vicki Cervantes- Chicago

                        Phone: (312) 259-5042 (english/spanish)

                        Email: vickicervantes@yahoo.com

                        Tanya Cole- Los Angeles

phone: 805-421-9708 (eng/span)

                        Email: wfpsw@witnessforpeace.org

                        Dale Sorensen- San Francisco

                        Phone:  415-669-7828 (English only)

                        Email: geodale1@earthlink.net

                        Brian Stefan-Szittai- Cleveland

brian@irtfcleveland.org

216.961.0003

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