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Telesur report: Armed Men Intimidate Electoral Observers and Companions in Honduras

Telesur report:

Armed Men Intimidate Electoral Companions Honduras

Original article (spanish)

Translation by La Voz de los de Abajo

This Saturday morning, six armed men entered a hotel in Tegucigalpa and intimidated international electoral accompaniers from El Salvador. Despite this incident , the accompaniers stated that they will continue to monitor the elections, with the goal that Hondurans can freely exercise their right to vote.

On Saturday, a group of six armed men stormed the Aurora Hotel in Tegucigalpa ( capital of Honduras ),  in an attempt to frighten international observers that will be present this Sunday during the Honduran general elections.

The TeleSur special correspondent in Honduras, Madeleine García , reported via the social network Twitter that the incident occurred at 10H30 local time on Saturday, when ” six armed men entered the Aurora Hotel, which is near the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa, the Capital ” .

“In the lobby of the hotel were mayors and deputies, who form part of the delegation of 40 international observers from El Salvador ,” said Garcia in hes account @ madeleintlSUR .

The journalist quoted  Deputy Nidia Diaz, who was with the group and explained that ” When 6 armed men entered, 3 other men arrived wearing Immigration shirts”. “I approached the men from Immigration and told them that we had entered Honduras legally yesterday and with credentials ,” said the deputy.

Diaz, cited by Garcia, described the event as “an act of intimidation that cannot occur within a process of free and transparent elections.”

” What happened today is a violation of the law, because as election accompaniers, we have legal rights,” said Diaz.

In addition, she said that ” the men were at the hotel for 45 minutes and left when more people came to support us.”

Despite the incident , Diaz said ” We are going to continue in Honduras,  standing by the people in this process to exercise their rights ” .

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal ( TSE)  signed an agreement with major media outlets on Wednesday, in which the press has agreed not to broadcast polling results of surveys or exit polls before Sunday 19H00 local time ( 01H00 GMT Monday) .

The TSE estimates that more than three million people go to the polls, but actual registered voters equal more than five million persons older than 18.

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Alarming escalation in the intimidation towards International Election Observers and Accompaniers in Honduras

Today around 10:30-11am in Hotel Suites Aurora in Tegucigalpa 5 men and 1 woman armed civilians dressed men with ski masks offered no identification, another 3 were wearing Immigration t-shirts, who went to reception.

Masked Honduran Immigration Agents who arrived demanding credentials of international electoral observers and accompaniers.
Masked Honduran Immigration Agents who arrived demanding credentials of international electoral observers and accompaniers.

They asked for passports for the people in the lobby who were here, as well as asked for all International Observers to come to the lobby, asked them questions and looked through their passports and took personal records. They took 2 passports from Brazilian international observers without explaining why. When they asked why, they say “because yes we can”.

They explained they were tourists and still they took passports without credible cause.

The Brazilians felt threatened “with fear, they can do whatever they want” they did not go up to the rooms but according to all present they were told that “they could go up to their rooms anytime”. Everyone felt a state of fear and intimidation, and very shaken up.

Later, the two Passports were given to me by an immigration officer, without even asking to return to the right person, whom they took them from.

This is an international outrage that this is happening during this election process and we are concern for what this may foretell for the transparency process tomorrow during elections.

One observer said that when she asked a soldier who he was, he said he could not identify himself, that he was under the command of Manuel Escobar Mejia.

We are extremely concerned for the safety of the International Observers and anyone here to witness the process of the elections.

Please stay tuned to what is going in Honduras and please be aware of the intimidation to International Observers.

Live updates Facebook and Twitter

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COFADEH: Military Police Try to Break into LIBRE headquarters in Tegucigalpa

Military Police Try to Break into the LIBRE Party Headquarters in the Kennedy Colony of Tegucigalpa, Honduras

* DENUCIATION *
(translated by La Voz de los de Abajo)

The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras ( COFADEH ) denounces that the night Friday, November 22 , military police attempted to break into the headquarters of the party LIBRE party in the Kennedy Colony of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

A few minutes before ten o’clock, three patrols of military police arrived , with approximately 12 troops in each patrol. Covering their faces with balaclavas , the troops began to surround the location , intimidating the four people who were there at the time.

Upon calling other members of their party, neighbors from the colony arrived and word of the situation spread through various media. The military police troops left , driving past the house of a candidate of the LIBRE party. Neighors, media and International Election Observers, responding to the news, remained at the headquarters.

* ” We will not forget and not forgive the acts nor the perpetrators” COFADEH *
Human Rights Monitoring Project for the 2013 Electoral Process

* COFADEH *
* Telephone : 3347-7819 / 9720-5673
* E – mail: * monitoreocofadeh2013@gmail.com / monitoreocofadeh2013@hotmail.com

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HSN – Northern Zone Statement on Immigration Harrassment of Delegation

1457531_578075355579720_1070343099_nAt approximately 10 am the morning of 22 of November, 4 people identifying themselves as Honduran Immigration agents, arrived at the offices of ERIC-SJ (Equipo de Reflexión Investigación y Comunicación – Honduras) , asking to see members of the HSN/AGJ delegation of international observers in Honduras for national elections this Sunday.

The delegation, which was not present at the time,  is comprised of 166 persons from the United States, Canada, and El Salvador who have been accredited by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Honduras as official election observers.  Having failed to find their first target, the demanded to see the identification of all the Hondurans present at the offices of ERIC-SJ.

1012460_578077848912804_1952272076_nLater at 7 pm this evening (11/22/2013), the same group of agents disrupted an election observer training of the HSN/AGJ delegation at the La Fragua retreat center in Progreso, Honduras.  Without prior warning, the officials intimidated observers by demanding to see everyone’s passports and observer credentials.  Election observer credentials are not needed for proof of legal immigration status. The fact that Agent Reynaldo demanded each person’s observer credentials reveals an interest that exceeds the duties of an immigration agent.

cattrip4 030
The TSE Trainer Sra. Robles who performed an official election observer training shortly before immigration officials interrupted a later session for delegates.

Ironically only one hour earlier, the delegation completed three hours of formal training in the same room  with official representatives of the Supreme Election Tribunal. In total,  four persons arrived in a grey crew-cab truck without license plates– but with DGME (official Immigration Department) lettering– and drove onto the private property. Their leader was Juan Reynaldo, badge number 066, and his associates were Cesar Medina, badge 086, Walter Ramos, badge 088, and Diana Avila, badge 052.   Originally, Agent Reynaldo said he was responding to complaints from neighbors.  Later, he changed his story to say that General Bernardino Cervantes had sent orders from Tegucigalpa to investigate the group.  The Honduran Government’s Deputy in charge of immigration in Yoro Province, Magdalena Medina, claimed to know nothing of the incident.

cattrip4 025Although the Honduran government begrudgingly has permitted international election observers for the tense, high-stakes elections this Sunday, this calculated act of harassment exposes the government’s desire to conduct this election outside the view of the concerned human rights and pro-democracy forces. Delegates consider these actions as a clear and hostile attempt by the Honduran government to intimidate us and to delegitimize the voices of electoral observers who have arrived in good faith to witness Sunday’s historic vote.

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Honduran Migration Officers Intimidating International Observers

1457531_578075355579720_1070343099_n 1012460_578077848912804_1952272076_n

This morning, Honduran officers from Migración y Extranjería arrived at the installations where HSN Northern delegations are staying and training in El Progreso, requesting that they speak to the HSN group. Since the group was in San Pedro Sula participating in a press conference, the Officers checked the IDs and documents of the Hondurans that work with ERIC that were present.

At approximately 7:00 pm, the Migration Officers showed up again to FRAGUA [adjacent to the ERIC offices] during the HSN training and began checking all documents of the HSN group. They are also requesting a meeting with the group for next Tuesday to handle the issue. All HSN delegates are U.S. citizens and provided the necessary documents requested by the Officers.

In another incident of intimidation, one of the van drivers of another HSN delegation was approached by an unknown man this morning, as he was waiting for the group in the parking lot. The unknown individual was insisting that the van driver provide information about the group including where they were going, what they were doing, etc. The unknown individual was taking pictures of the van and the license plate of the vehicle as well.

This is nothing but pure intimidation against the group, all of which have ‘International Accompanier’ credentials from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

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Election Observers from the United States and Canada Arrive in Honduras to Monitor Presidential Vote (HSN – Northern Zone)

For Immediate Release:

Contact: HSN – Northern Zone
Alexy Lanza (+504) 9600-6384

Election Observers from the United States and Canada
Arrive in Honduras to Monitor Presidential Vote

One hundred sixty-six people from the United States and Canada will serve as election accompaniers and human rights observers during the upcoming national elections in Honduras. The delegation is organized by the Honduras Solidarity Network – Alliance for Global Justice and the participants come from organizations, churches, and communities throughout the U.S., Canada and El Salvador. The HSN/AGJ delegation represents the largest body of electoral observers from the US that will observe the 2013 Honduran elections.

We are here in good faith as elections accompaniers and our goal is to accompany the people of Honduras in their electoral process as they seek social justice in their country. However, we recognize that our limited presence cannot and will not guarantee a fair election. The elections are taking place at a time when international and Honduran human rights groups have expressed alarm at conditions that may prevent the possibility of fair and free elections in Honduras.

We are concerned about an atmosphere marked by violence and harassment against the political opposition, journalists, human rights defenders, small farmers and indigenous communities, as evidenced by the following facts:

  • On October 15, U.S. Congressmen Grijalva, Honda and Johnson sent a letter urging Secretary of State Kerry highlighted a “pattern of concerted attacks targeting human rights defenders and the opposition.” The lawmakers urged Kerry to monitor a potential militarization of the country during the electoral process.
  • According to a report by the U.S. and Canadian-based Rights Action, there have been numerous murders and attacks against political party members during the campaign thus far. Rights Action reported that the LIBRE party has been most at risk: 18 LIBRE candidates and activists have been murdered and 15 injured in armed attacks.
  • A new military-police force created by the current ruling party is raiding homes of LIBRE members and supporters. New threats and assassinations are occurring weekly.
  • On October 28, Honduran human rights organizations testified at the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission on the threats and attacks against their members.
  • On November 4, Amnesty International published a letter sent to all of the presidential candidates in which Guadalupe Marengo, the Americas Deputy Programme Director, stated that “the human rights situation in Honduras is dire and the future of the country hangs in the balance.”
  • There has been a publicity campaign to discredit human rights defenders in the country, both Hondurans and internationals. Various officials have made strong statements against them, making it seem as though they want to discredit the Honduran and international human rights observers in order to negatively affect their capacity to defend the rights of Honduran people.

Most of us are U.S. citizens, and we are very concerned about recent statements by U.S. Ambassador Kubiske, which imply that the U.S. national interest is against the LIBRE party or in favor of other political parties. We denounce any kind of intervention by our government – the US Government—whether in the form of statements or actions, that could interfere with a free and fair vote. We are also disturbed about the role of U.S. security aid in exacerbating the current crisis described above. By calling attention to the human rights concerns of Hondurans, we hope that they may be promptly addressed by the appropriate local and international bodies. Finally, we hope that that this election will truly reflect the aspirations of the Honduran people.

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Who Will Vote in Honduras? Four Facts that Could Affect the Outcome of Sunday’s Election

LIBRE Party Closing Rally

The official election campaign ended as of Monday night and now comes the “period of silence” prior to the voting on November 24th, but the concerns about the general atmosphere and abuses continue. After just a few days in Honduras, we have heard numerous complaints about intimidation and potential fraud in the elections and even more grave concerns about the general human rights atmosphere of intimidation and threats and their effect on the electoral process and on the social justice movements.

Disenfranchised Campesinos – 
More than 60% of the Honduran population is rural and most of this population is small farmers or landless farmers who live in extreme poverty.  Members of the national leadership of the CNTC  (National Center of Farmworkers) who represent more than 400 campesino communities around the country are indignant about the continuing violence against their members and the deliberate disenfranchisement of thousands of campesinos and campesinas.  As this post is being published we are getting reports of large violent evictions of campesino communities in northern Honduras. More information is not yet available.
There are currently 3,061 CNTC members who will be unable to vote because of pending legal actions and charges against them related to the  agrarian struggles in the country. In the province of La Paz where there have been several extremely violent evictions of poor farmers  more than 400 CNTC members are in legal processes, two thirds of the charges were filed in the past three months. In the province of Francisco Morazan close to Tegucigalpa 39 CNTC local leaders have been disenfranchised in the same way. Most of the charges around the country  have been filed since the election campaign has intensified; court dates have been postponed repeatedly to occur after the elections. In Santa Barbara, on August 6th, 553 families were evicted as police used tear gas and fired live rounds. One of the campesinos from the community told La Voz members that the ruling National Party congresswoman for that region, Maria Concepcion Figuerero de la Guevara, lent her car to the police for use during the raid and was overheard telling the police that they should “arrest all of them (the campesinos) because that is more than 80 votes that aren’t for us”.
Concerns about Fraud and Manipulation
Today, November 20th, the media is reporting widespread electricity outages in the capitol city. This was confirmed by a call from the CNTC in Tegucigalpa. The neighborhoods affected by the outages – which are predicted to continue through the elections on Sunday — are in neighborhoods known to be LIBRE strongholds: The Mercedes, Kennedy, San Francisco, Hato de Medio, Dilbio Paraiso, Nueva Capital, Pantanal, Quesada and other marginalized barrios.
In order to vote Hondurans must be on the official government registry and have in their possession a national identification card. There are numerous complaints reported in the Honduran press that the  registry has eliminated names of people who are alive and want to vote, and has not eliminated the names of people who are dead, has issued multiple identification cards to the same people while others have not yet been able to get their cards (reported on Globo TV). While much of this confusion is not necessarily deliberate, the concern of many Hondurans is that it allows and facilitates deliberate fraud. Numerous people we talked to shared stories of people being offered money to “lend” their Identification Cards to organizers from the Liberal and National Party and the existence of “black market” Identification cards.
Residents of the area of Jutiapa near Tegucigalpa state that the National Party is paying people 200 Lempira to get on the National Party buses. There are also complaints from LIBRE members that the National and Liberal Parties have reserved almost all the for-hire buses and vans, not because they need all of them but in order to block LIBRE from being able to provide transportation. They reported that that was what occurred the day of the campaign closure rallies of LIBRE and the National Party in Tegucigalpa, but that thousands of LIBRE supporters walked to the rally site from across the city while many were also picked up and given rides by LIBRE supporters.
The National Party candidate for President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, is the current president of the National Congress. He is taking full advantage of his position to push the limits of campaigning. The government program of “Bonus 10 Thousand” (Bono 10 mil) was established by and funded by international development banks in 2010 and makes payments to very poor women/mothers who meet requirements like sending their children to school daily. Juan Orlando is distributing these funds just days before the election and  there are numerous complaints in the media by Hondurans  that National Party activists are telling the women they need to vote for Juan Orlando to keep getting the payments and that during the hours spent in the lines waiting for the payments the women are continually being “lobbied” for the National Party. In addition, Juan Orlando is distributing prepaid gift cards to people reportedly if they say they will vote for him. (see the photo of the gift card flyer in this posting, Los Cachurecos is the National Party nick name).
More intimidation and threats against Human Rights Defenders. 
Threats against human rights defenders in Honduras are constant and obviously aimed not only at the defenders but at the people they are protecting. Juan Orlando Hernandez in particular along with other National Party government officials have launched strongly worded attacks in the press against Berta Oliva, Director for COFADEH, since she gave testimony in early October at the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission. Besides the verbal attacks, the COFADEH staff and security report that since November 5th, suspicious cars (SUVs with black tinted glass and no license plates) are surveilling the COFADEH offices and  following Berta Oliva and other staff members.  In the context of the elections the increasingly aggressive propaganda and intimidation also creates an atmosphere of fear that can intimidate  the vote especially for supporters of LIBRE. It also directly affects the work of defenders such as COFADEH who are organizing teams of human rights observers to accompany the population on the day of the election in areas in which there are the most HR violations, and threats.
This article was originally publish by HSN member, La Voz de los de Abajo, on the Honduras Resists blog.
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Indigenous Lenca in Rio Blanco Continue Resistance to Dam Project

“Our people have awakened, and we’re not going to give in to those who want take away what is ours as indigenous Lenca people,” said Francisco Sanchez Garcia, President of the Indigenous Council of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organization of Honduras (COPINH).

Sanchez spoke of his community, Rio Blanco, the IMG_0124site of a five-month old blockade to prevent construction on the World Bank-funded Agua Zarca Hydroelectic Project. The Chinese company SINOHYDRO and Honduran contractor DESA are the companies slated to build the project. The community sits over the only entry road down to the proposed dam-building site, and they have blocked the road consistently since April 1. The Project would create a huge dam over the Rio Gualcarque, burying many sacred Lenca ceremonial places and thousands of acres of fertile growing land. Local people also assert that the government is hiding a shadow project to build a gold mine that would utilize the dammed water and generated electricity from the dam, should it be built.

“If this project goes forward, it will ruin our river, poison the fish, and drown our forests. And what for? If we give up our lands, we’ll still have to pay for electricity like everyone else,” he said.

Francisco reported that since the blockade began, he’s been subject to police harassment, death threats and the worst, he said, was this past November 1, when police rifle-butted his 17 year-old son three times in an attempt to provoke his family into violence. Francisco and his wife Mercedes Perez say they know who is making the death threats, but they live with the constant worry that those who made the threats could hire unknown hitmen to carry them out. As a result, Francisco must be accompanied by community members everywhere he goes.

“He went out this morning by himself and I told him, ‘You can’t do that anymore.’ He needs someone with him all the time, in case they try something.” said Mercedes.

THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE

cattrip2 001The DESA/SINOHYDRO base camp and hydro-electric plant is situated in a valley a couple of miles from where the proposed dam would be built. When this reporter visited the site on November 18, 2013, a formidable security gate defined the plant’s perimeter. Security personnel were visibly unnerved when receiving a surprise visit. Two guards asked us to wait while a security official lumbered up to the gate. Meanwhile, the Director of Security, who would not give his name, and who was not on site at the time of our arrival, rushed down to the gate in a grey Nissan pickup aggressively honking as he approached and barreled through.

The uncomfortable scene at the gate was quite different than that of July 15, when the people of Rio Blanco and COPINH supporters marched on the site. In July, the gate had not yet been built. The only security was the Honduran military. As marchers approached the site, they called out chants for the company to get off Lenca land. Soldiers braced themselves for a conflict.

Then, a nervous soldier fired two shots into the air. Marchers paused briefly, but remained resolute in their goal, and began to advance again. Finally, as the march got close to the DESA plant, at least two soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Four people were shot. COPINH leader Tomas Garcia, who was near the front of the march, was shot multiple times, including in the head, and died at the scene. His son was also among those who were shot.

Tomas’s death confirmed local people’s fears that the authorities were willing to end lives to ensure the building of the dam. Publicly, the company blamed the unarmed protesters for instigating the violence, but they knew the situation could quickly spiral out of control. So, DESA/SINOHYDRO pulled out the heavy machinery that it had brought in before the blockade had been constructed.

“When blood was spilled, that’s when they took the equipment out,” said Rio Blanco’s Francisco Sanchez. “Our companiero gave his life to get that machinery out of here.”

A CAMPAIGN AT HAND?

Further discussion at the security gate of the inactive Hydroelectric Plant intimated at a campaign launched by the government and DESA, the company contracted to oversee the construction of the dam.

tomas garciaWhen asked about the killing of Don Tomas Garcia, the lead security guard, who refused to give his name, broke it down: “There was a conflict between two sides. One side [the protesters] got out of control, and the other side [the Honduran Army] overreacted.” Until now, no company or government officials have publicly admitted any fault or responsibility on the part of troops. They have consistently blamed the protesters for provoking the violence that led to Tomas’s death.

He continued, “…but that happened in the beginning of the project. It has all been resolved. We’re on pause now. The challenge is to publicize (“socializar”) the benefits of this project for the surrounding communities, so that they know the positive side of it. Then, we can move forward. ”

When asked what the benefits were, the security guard replied, “I’m really not qualified to talk about it, but yes, improved roads, better education, and better healthcare.”

Back up the hill in Rio Blanco, the hints of an orchestrated campaign to buy off community leadership were evident in the stories of the struggle.

“Here in Rio Blanco, we are 100% opposed to this project, but some of the elders and many elected leaders of communities around here have been paid off so that they go along with it,” says Francisco Sanchez.

“Some of the people who used to march with us in the streets have switched sides and now support the project.”

Repression Against COPINH Leadership

bertha_caceresIt’s September 12, 2013. In the court at Santa Barbara, Intibuca Judge Alicia Reyes calls the hearing to order. On the defendants’ side two lawyers are present, but one of the defendant’s chairs is vacant. Berta Caceres is defying the Judge Reyes’s order to jail her while she awaits trial. The prosecutor is charging Berta and two co-defendants Aureliano Molina y Tomás Gómez Membreño with “damage to private property,” “land theft,” and “coercion,” related to the struggle against the Agua Zarca project. Berta also faces another charge of carrying a high-caliber weapon. None of these charges have ever been substantiated by anyone other than DESA employees, and the high-caliper weapon planted in a COPINH vehicle has not been researched to trace its origin.

Maria Aguiluz, director of the Centeral American and Mexican chapter of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) says that the fabricated charges amount to legal harrassment of Berta and her co-defendants. The charges represent a new strategy by the Honduran authorities who, she claims, “are using the judicial infrastructure as a tool persecute human rights defenders and impede their ability to carry out their work.”

Aguiluz has called for a hearing on Berta’s case at the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, based at the Organization of American States. Meanwhile, thousands of people have demonstrated in Honduras and internationally for the Honduran government to drop the charges against Berta and her two co-defendants.

The mounting pressure is beginning to take effect. According to recent COPINH declaration published on the organizational website, the prosecution wants to commute the charges and the legal process into a mediated “reconciliation process” between prosecutors and the COPINH defendants. This usually results in dropped charges in exchange for a paying a small fine and admitting to some nominal charges. Berta and her lawyers remain resolute in rejecting these offers.

From the COPINH site:

“We declare, personally and as an organization, and because we have truth and dignity on our side, that Berta Caceres and COPINH will never be blackmailed or pressured into accepting any type of agreement that the Conciliation Hearing and the accusers are proposing: that she [Berta] admit that the weapon supposedly found in the COPINH truck was hers, or that she ask forgiveness, or that she reimburse the Honduran state for troubles caused by this perverse accusation.

We demand that the Honduran State de-authorize the Public Prosecutor, and that they drop these unjust and baseless charges.”

The Presidential Election

IMG_0127Back in Rio Blanco, the question of this Sunday’s Presidential election (11/24/13) looms large, but Francisco Sanchez expresses a pragmatic approach.

“Politicians make lots of promises, but those usually turn out to be lies,” he said. “Whoever wins this election, we’re going to continue this struggle to defend our lands, because with politicians there are no guarantees.”

Source: HSN Election Monitoring Communication Team – Northern Zone

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