In ENCA Newsletter No 74 (November 2018), we included a three-page round-up of corruption, repression and violence in Guatemala. Half a year later the situation in Guatemala for defenders of land rights, environmental rights and human rights cannot be said to have improved, but in this issue it is the turn of Honduras to be scrutinised. Both countries are dysfunctional in terms of social and environmental welfare, are politically undemocratic and anti-democratic, are economically highly unequal and epitomise day-to-day activity controlled by organised crime. No place to be an environmentalist or a social activist.
Compiled by ENCA member Martin Mowforth
For weeks the streets of Tegucigalpa and other Honduran cities have been the scene of protests and violent repression by the police and army. Protests have been held regularly on Fridays this year demanding that the President Juan Orlando Hernández steps down due to his links with acts of corruption and narco-trafficking. But since late April, teachers and health workers have been demonstrating against the privatisation of education and health services.
These demonstrations have grown into huge mobilizations in support of the teachers and health workers, but also demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández (commonly referred to as JOH). Honduran economist Hugo Noé Pino and sociologist Eugenio Sosa have explained the background to the unrest: “The budgets of both sectors [education and health] have decreased during the current decade. Spending on education by the central government was 32.9 per cent of the total in 2010 and in the approved budget for 2019 it is 19.9 per cent. Health spending was reduced from 14.3 per cent to 9.7 per cent in the same period.” During this same period, spending on security and defence has increased.
As the SOAW (School of the Americas Watch) reports, “the situation in public hospitals is disastrous due to lack of equipment, medicine and supplies. It is so bad that doctors report operating by the light of cell phones.” Honduras has 14 doctors for 10,000 population compared with a figure of 20 doctors as an average for Central America.
It is these conditions, along with the extremely high level of generalised violence and particular repression against protests, that have driven so many people to take the dangerous migration routes to the USA. It is ironic that GDP growth in Honduras is relatively high, thereby satisfying the International Monetary Fund’s demands and requirements. One of the reasons for this GDP growth is the high level of remittances sent back to family members in Honduras by all the Hondurans who have successfully crossed the US border to find work and to earn enough to send back home.
On 7th June Public Sector Finance reported that in the first week in June protests by public sector workers continued unabated despite the government’s u-turn on public sector reforms. Workers are sceptical of the government’s willingness to carry out and comply with any agreements made through negotiations between government and workers. Additionally, JOH’s credibility and legitimacy are limited by the more general call for his resignation.
On 17th June, teleSur reported that the teachers’ and health workers’ protests are continuing despite JOH’s repealing of the two laws designed to privatise the two sectors. They point out that JOH’s repeal referred only to the health sector and not to the education sector; and they claim that this is a clear attempt to divide the protesters. At the time of going to print, the protests were continuing.
1,000 Israeli troops to Honduras
A multilateral treaty between Honduras, Israel and the United States sees the deployment of 1,000 Israeli soldiers to Honduras to train the Armed Forces of Honduras (FFAA) and the National Police.
The main mission of the troops is to train for border protection to prevent migrants fleeing Honduras to the USA, but they will also offer training in the fight against drug trafficking, investigation and counter-terrorism. The 1,000 troops will be stationed with the Joint Task Force of the US at the Soto Cano air base in Palmerola, the largest US military base in Latin America.
The presence of Israeli soldiers is part of a bilateral cooperation agreed between the two countries and signed before Honduras transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Another agreement between the two countries (signed in 2016 for a period of ten years) commits Honduras to purchasing a million dollars’ worth of arms and military equipment and the repowering of ships and planes.
Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres, a deputy from the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party), explained that the 2009 post-coup government “began to make military agreements where the Honduran army would receive more training, and it is all paid for with the taxes of the Honduran people, so that all of the general budget that was destined for health, education and public services is reduced.”
Zúñiga Cáceres (who also happens to be one of the daughters of the assassinated leader of COPINH, Berta Cáceres) went on to describe the Israeli armed forces as: “specialists in genocide, specialists in torture, which they do against the Palestinian people.”
300 US troops to Honduras
Another Southern Command (Southcom) brigade of US Navy and Marine soldiers arrived in Honduras at the beginning of June to “improve disaster response and other crisis situations”.
As Popular Resistance.org writes, “Southcom has been a controversial actor in Latin American politics for many years since its founding as a force to defend US interests at the Panama Canal. The commander of Southcom, US Admiral Craig Faller, has intimated that the force could be re-oriented for intervention in Venezuela …”
It is interesting to note that this new deployment of forces coincides with widespread civil unrest in Honduras. The protests of health and education workers have grown into broader demonstrations against government corruption and neoliberal economic development policies such as privatisation. It also coincides with US efforts to persuade northern triangle countries’ governments (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to prevent the waves of migrants that have chosen over the last nine months to leave the failed state that is Honduras.
Honduras: Murder Rate Surges Deflating Hopes for Better 2019
The number of violent deaths in Honduras has gone up in April and May, sometimes by a rate as high as 98 percent over figures from 2018.
According to a report by the General Directorate of Forensic Medicine and the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH), between Jan. 1 and May 8 of 2019, 1,258 people were murdered – a rate of 10 per day. While the overall number for the year is lower than the 1,340 registered homicides that took place during the same time last year, the number of deaths in April and May of 2019 have increased significantly.
April 2019 saw 78 more violent deaths over last April and in the first 8 days of May there were 113 violent deaths, 38 more than those that occurred in the same period of the previous year. Wednesday (8th) was an especially violent day with 25 murders taking place all over the country according to a report by Criterio. The deaths were registered in cities such as La Ceiba, Choluteca, Danlí, Lepaterique, Teupasenti, El Paraíso, San Pedro Sula and Santa Cruz de Yojoa.
Just the day before on Tuesday at the Central American Security Conference 2019 run by the United States Southern Command, and including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico as observers, the head of the Armed Forces of Honduras René Orlando Fonseca had said that Honduras “lives in a climate of peace and security” and that “violence is sporadic.”
This year, 274 homicides were reported in January, 258 violent deaths in February, and in March there were 251 homicides, figures below those registered in 2018 during the same period.
Those three encouraging months of reduced homicides in the country were overshadowed, however, by the high incidence of deaths in April and the start of May.
Spokesman for the Secretariat of Security Jair Meza, a high ranking police official, attributed the increase in violent deaths to “gangs and gangs linking up to acquire territories for the sale of drugs in different neighbourhoods.” Meza argued that another factor causing the high incidence of homicides is extortion, mainly in the transportation sector.
“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus,” says Meza.
Femicides in Honduras
30 women were murdered during the month of January this year according to Observatory of Violence at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH). About 95 per cent of the country’s femicides go unpunished.
The number of femicides in Honduras has reduced in recent years, but remains very high. Femicides make orphans of thousands of children. A September 2018 report by the Association of Quality of Life and the Women’s Tribe Against Femicides found that over 17,000 children in the country have been orphaned as a direct result of femicides. The United Nations has named ‘machismo’ or male superiority as one of the leading causes that normalises violence against women in Honduras.
UNICEF in Honduras: violence and de-education
In early April, UNICEF director Henrietta Fore visited Honduras. She emphasised that Honduras is not a nation at war but is a country which has a rate of violence that is “astronomical”. Since 2010, Honduras has had one of the highest murder rates in the world.
She said, “Honduras continues to be a dangerous place for too many children and adolescents. The gangs sow terror throughout the country and offer young people an impossible choice: Join or die.” Fore listened to testimonies of affected populations and stated that more than half a million children of school age do not have access to secondary education in Honduras.
Criminalisation in Honduras
On the World Press Freedom Day in May this year, UN Secretary General António Guterres endorsed a letter calling for an end to the use of criminalisation as a tactic to silence critics.
In Honduran courts, there are currently at least 41 lawsuits relating to crimes against one’s honour. The Comité por la Libre Expresión (Committee for Free Expression) gave details of 13 cases relating to journalists, eight to political party members, three to trade unionists, four to land defenders, two to the defenders of women’s human rights, two to victims who demanded justice for the assassination of relatives, and one public employee. The majority of these had divulged information or had expressed an opinion regarding matters of public concern.
In its letter to mark World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights acknowledged the significance of the media and journalists in the promotion and protection of this freedom. The Office observed with concern the aggression, violence and violations of human rights of journalists in Honduras.
- Telesur, 4 February 2019, ‘Honduras: 30 Femicides in January with 95% Impunity Rate’
- Criterio, 3 May 2019, ‘Naciones Unidas insta al Estado de Honduras a despenalizar la difamación, calumnia y injuria’
- Telesur, 5 April 2019, ‘A Child Dies Violently in Honduras Every Day: UNICEF’
- Telesur, 6 May 2019, ‘1,000 Israeli Soldiers To Arrive in Honduras to Train Troops, Police on Border Protection’
- Telesur, 10 May 2019, ‘Honduras: Murder Rate Surges Deflating Hopes for Better 2019’
- Popular Resistance.org, 22 May 2019, ‘”This Is A War Against The Honduran People”’
- Criterio, 24 May 2019, ‘Médicos exigen resultados a la MACCIH sobre corrupción en Salud’
- Criterio, 3 June 2019, ‘Masiva protesta de médicos y docentes pese a división orquestada por el gobierno’
- Rights Action, 3 June 2019, ‘Honduran Presidents linked to drug-trafficking & money laundering since US & Canadian-backed coup ousted Honduras’ last democratic government’
- Telesur, 3 June 2019, ‘Honduras Gov’t Backtracks on Neoliberal Laws Amid Large Strike’
- Criterio, 4 June 2019, ‘Crisis de gobernabilidad en Honduras tiene a su población en las calles’
- Public Sector Finance, 7 June 2019, ‘Protests in Honduras continue over public sector reforms’
- Popular Resistance .org, 8 June 2019, ‘300 US Southcom Troops Arrive In Honduras To Teach ‘Humanitarian Assistance’’
- SOAW, 12 June 2019, SOAW newssheet
- Telesur, 17 June 2019, ‘Honduras: Teachers Continue Protests Against Government’
- La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador), 19 June 2019, ‘Protestas en Honduras se intensifican, Policía Nacional se encuentra en paro’
- Observatory of Violence, UNAH: https://app-iudpas.unah.edu.hn/observatorio/index.php/consultas