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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Threatening Actions in Ocotepeque

Threatening Actions in Ocotepeque
Human rights defenders from the department of Ocotepeque in the west of the country, reported that on Sunday, November 17 in the town of Walkaya, municipality of Sensenti, after the Partido Nacional [National Party] campaign closure, a caravan of vehicles carrying National Party activists threw high powered firecrakers at a group of Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) Party supporters who were stationed at the roadside. No injuries were reported, but the witnesses claimed that the action was an act of intimidation.

… The Original Denouncement from COFADEH (in Spanish)

Intimidación  en Ocotepeque
Defensoras  de derechos humanos del departamento de Ocotepeque, en el occidente del país,  informaron que el domingo 17 de noviembre en la comunidad de Walkaya,  jurisdicción del municipio de Sensenti, después del cierre de campaña del  Partido Nacional en esta zona, una caravana de vehículos que transportaba a  activistas del partido Nacional lanzaron petardos de alto poder contra un grupo  de simpatizantes del partido Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) que se encontraban  apostados a la orilla del camino. No se reportó heridos, pero los agredidos  sostuvieron que la acción se trató de un acto de intimidación.

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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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Press Release: Observers from the United States and Canada Travel to Honduras for November 24th Elections

For Immediate Release:

Human Rights Crises Continues

Observers from the United States and Canada Travel to Honduras for November 24th Elections

 Organizations from the United States and Canada are taking more than 160 people to Honduras to serve as election observers and human right observers for the upcoming national elections in which a new political party (LIBRE) founded out of the opposition to a 2009 military coup will be participating for the first time. The delegation is organized by the Honduras Solidarity Network – Alliance for Global Justice and the participants come from organizations, churches and communities from more than 8 states as well as from Canada and El Salvador.

 “Our goal is to accompany the people of Honduras in their electoral process and as they seek social justice in their country”, said Chuck Kaufman of Alliance for Global Justice, “ we are very concerned about an atmosphere marked by extreme violence and harassment against the political opposition, journalists, human rights defenders, small farmers and indigenous communities and the role of US security aid in that crises.”

 The elections are taking place at a time when international and Honduran human rights groups are expressing alarm at the conditions in Honduras and for the possibility of fair and free elections.

  • On October 28th Honduran human rights organizations testified at the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission on the threats and attacks against their members and on November 4th 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,”( http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/honduras-elections-should-mark-a-turning-point-for-human-rights ).

Participants are available for interviews. Please contact the press contacts listed above for more information.

In the USA
Michael Bass
Cell: 510-432-2555
Email: michaelbass84@gmail.com

In Honduras
Alexy Lanza
Cell: 312 848-7092
Email: alexyjlanza@yahoo.com

Download PDF: Press-Release-7-Nov-2013

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Presente! Update on Honduras Oct 2013

http://www.soaw.org/presente/index.php?oeption=com_content&task=view&id=396&Itemid=74Update from Honduras
“I want to see justice for the assassination of my son. I don’t want there to be any more blood of Hondurans in the streets. But how will the murders stop if there is no justice? Without justice, they aren’t afraid to keep murdering young people….”

These were the words of the mother of Isy Obed Murillo, a 19-year old who was murdered by the Honduran armed forces when they shot live bullets into a massive mobilization of hundreds of thousands demanding the return of Honduran President Mel Zelaya following the 2009 SOA-graduate led military coup. Since the coup, Honduras has transformed from a country that was making progress under President Zelaya to the world’s most violent country.  Social movement leaders, journalists who speak the truth, members of the LGBTQ community, and those who demand justice are the targets of murder, repression, and death threats.  The military patrols the streets of the two largest cities and operates numerous checkpoints throughout the country. The police are widely recognized to have ties to death squads and the military patrols the streets of the two largest cities and operates numerous checkpoints throughout the country. Even so the US continues pouring millions into the post-coup regime, especially in military “aid.”  In this climate of violence and repression, neoliberal policies have been forced upon the Honduran people – whole swaths of land are planned to be the site of “model cities” run by corporations, rivers that Indigenous people depend on have been concessioned to corporations, the rights of teachers have been decimated, and the oligarchy and international corporations are grabbing land and resources all over. Standing up against any of this means risking your life and that of your family.  Impunity reigns as 98% of murders reportedly go unpunished and the justice system is a joke.  As Isy Obed’s mother said, without justice, the murders – whether by the police, military, or third parties – don’t stop.

It is in this context that I am serving as an SOA Watch activante in Honduras, accompanying social movements, those who have lost family members, and those who stand up for human rights.  SOA Watch’s primary partner in Honduras is COFADEH, the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras, a human rights organization that stands up for justice – along with many others – in the face of intense repression and sophisticated surveillance.  We have spent time standing outside the courthouse with the family of Ebed Yanes, a 15-year old who was murdered when a 2011 WHINSEC/SOA grad presumably gave the order to shoot and whose murder by the military was covered up by four SOA grads who are high ranking military officials.  We have spent time with the Indigenous community of Rio Blanco, where an SOA-graduate commanded military unit is occupying Indigenous territory to protect the interests of multi-national capital.  And we have had our hearts broken in the Bajo Aguan, where over 100 campesinos (small farmers) have been murdered since the coup, the majority by a virtual army of private security guards, the military, police, or hired hitmen as powerful landowners seek to grab more and more land and campesino cooperatives find themselves evicted and repressed.

For many in Honduras, their hope for rescuing Honduras is the new political party, LIBRE, coordinated by ousted President Zelaya and formed out of the resistance movement to the coup.  LIBRE leads in the polls and enjoys widespread support.  However, the powers at be are not willing to give up easily what they have taken away from the Honduran people. Leaders in LIBRE have been assassinated and threatened. LIBRE activist Silvia Aguiriano de Sarmiento, her sister, and bodyguard were murdered as they were driving back from a LIBRE meeting by armed men reported to be carrying AK-47s. Anibal Barrow, a journalist who expressed his support for LIBRE and interviewed LIBRE candidates on his TV program, was forcibly disappeared from his car and his whereabouts unknown for 16 days.  His body was finally found buried near a lake in decomposing pieces. One must ask, how can there be free and fair elections when opposition leaders are murdered and journalists who interview LIBRE candidates turn up in pieces?

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Court of Appeals to issue decision on appeal of persecuted indigenous leaders

http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com/2013/10/court-of-appeals-to-issue-decision-on.html

Court of Appeals to issue decision on appeal of persecuted indigenous leaders any day
Declaration and update from COPINH regarding persecution of Lenca indigenous leaders

Versión original en español: Declaración del COPINH sobre persecuci

ón de dirigentes indígenas Lencas

Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of honduras
COPINH
Barrio Las Delicias, Frente la Llantera Lempira, Intibucá, Intibucá Honduras. CA
Copinhonduras.blogspot.com; FB Copinh Intibuca; Web: copinh.org;
Twitter: @copinhhonduras

Urgent call for solidarity

Sisters and brothers, partners and friends:

The General Coordination of COPINH is calling out to the grassroots of our organization, progressive social and political forces, the resistance in general, national and international human rights organizations, those in solidarity and the media.

Indigenous Lenca members of Río Blanco communities and
COPINH, including the falsely accused Berta Cáceres

We want to inform you of the situation stemming from the political persecution our organization has been subjected to, expressed in the vicious racism of Honduran courts faithfully following the instructions of private enterprise, particularly in the cases of sister Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, General Coordinator, brother Aureliano Molina Villanueva and brother Tomas Gómez Membreño, indigenous spokespeople and members of the grassroots and the executive commission, persecuted for the struggle that COPINH continues to wage in defense of the collective and individual rights of the communities of Río Blanco, nature’s communal goods, against the privatization of the Gualcarque River and for the rights of the Lenca people in general. We communicate the following:

1.- That the case file for the accusations of damages, conspiracy and usurpation presented by the DESA company against our sister and brothers HAS NOW PASSED TO THE APPEALS COURT OF COMAYAGUA, which under the law has a 5 day window to respond to the appeal filed by the COPINH legal defense team. As a reminder, it was in this case that Judge Lissien Lisseth Knigth issued a resolution ordering prison for sister Bertha Cáceres and probationary measures for Tomas Gómez and Aureliano Molina consisting of signing a reporting book at the court every 15 days and prohibiting them from visiting the places of the supposed actions referred to in the unfounded accusations of the Attorney General, represented by the prosecutor Henrry Alexander Pineda and private attorneys headed by the lawyer Juan Carlos Sánchez Cantiyano;

2.- That at the request and pleasure of the DESA company, on October 3rd Judge Lissien Lisseth Knigth modified the probationary measures in the case of brother Aureliano Molina, adding to the existing measures the prohibition to even visit neighboring communities, which is not only unconstitutional but absurd in prohibiting a Lenca to travel through his own ancestral lands;

3.- That in the case of the legal set-up perpetrated against sister Berta Cáceres accusing her of “illegal possession of arms threatening the internal security of the State of Honduras” by the Army, Attorney General and Federal Prosecutor of the Republic, the Appeals Court of Santa Barbará is giving total privilege and credibility to the testimonies of the soldiers of the Engineers Battalion (Batallón de Ingenieros). Furthermore, there has not been due diligence, nor has it been allowed, to determine who are the true owners of the weapon planted in the COPINH vehicle, which is being used against our sister without proof, registration documents, or expert reports, thus legitimating the Army’s illegality in order to further criminalize the struggle of COPINH and the Indigenous Peoples. The manipulation of justifications used against sister Bertha Cáceres speaks to the bad faith and the vicious and patriarchal racism of a judiciary that is at the service of colonial companies;

Military patrolling Río Blanco in unmarked company truck

4.- Because of all of this, we demand that the Appeals Court of Comayagua and the judicial system in general:

Follow the law, including indigenous law, assuring the right to justice, truth, respect for the territory, culture and spirituality of the Lenca people and the full and effective application of ILO Convention 169.

Stop portraying as victims the true invaders, usurpers and manipulators of territory, communal resources and the very life of the Lenca People. In this case that is the DESA company, which has caused historic and irreparable damage such as the killing of brother Tomas García at the hands of the Honduran army acting as the company’s mercenaries, a killing that has yet to be punished; and it has sewed insecurity in our communities, seeking to divide them, and threatening them with both military presence and hired killers.

Overturn the decision of the First Court of Letters of Intibucá with regards to these accusations, which issued the order to impose prison on Bertha Cáceres and probationary measures on Aureliano Molina and Tomas Gómez Membreño. We also demand that the absurd judicial order for the displacement of the communities of Río Blanco be revoked.

Bring to justice those who are using their positions of power to negate the existence of the Lenca people, descendents or the original peoples of this land, such as the Adjunct Prosecutor Lawyer Rigoberto Cuellar, ex-Minister of SERNA (Secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment)

PLEASE CONTACT THESE MAGISTRATES: HUMBERTO MIDENCE (President of the Court of Appeals) mcerna@poderjudicial.gob.hn; RUBEN RIVERA FLORES; OMAR BONILLA. PHONE/FAX: (504) 27.72.01.76

With the ancestral strength of Icelaca, Lempira, Mota and Etempica we raise our voices full of life, justice, liberty, dignity and peace!

Enough criminalization of COPINH, enough criminalization of the right to defend the rivers, territories, ancestral cultures and lives!

Río Blanco is NOT a military station, no more police and army occupation!
COPINH
Intibucá, October 21st, 2013

 

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CEPR: Honduras: Military Police as a Major Electoral Issue

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/honduras-military-police-as-a-major-electoral-issue

Honduras: Military Police as a Major Electoral Issue

Written by Dan Beeton
Thursday, 31 October 2013 18:46
The deployment of a new military police force, an initiative first proposed by National Party candidate, and president of the National Congress Juan Orlando Hernández, has emerged as an important contextual issue in U.S. media and analysis of Honduras’ fast-approaching presidential elections. Catherine Cheney, for example, wrote recently for World Politics Review:

Last week, in the midst of a political campaign that has focused heavily on public security, authorities in Honduras deployed 1,000 military police as part of an effort to address drug violence and organized crime in this Central American country, home to the highest homicide rate in the world.

The new police force is a demonstration of a central Hernández political campaign position in response to one of the biggest issues in the elections: soaring crime rates, and Honduras’ now infamous status as the “murder capital of the world.” As Henry Tricks wrote for The Economist:

…Mr Hernández has made security the central issue, even though polls show that the economy is just as much of a concern for most citizens. In relentless publicity slots, he accuses [LIBRE presidential candidate Xiomara] Castro of wanting to demilitarise the fight against crime (she denies this, saying she wants to use the military to secure the borders against drug traffickers). In contrast, he has put his weight behind the creation of a 5,000-strong military-police force, 1,000 of which have been deployed on city streets during the campaign.

Cheney cites experts who see the militarized police force as both poorly-trained and having a misplaced focus:

[Mark Ungar, a Latin America expert and professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center] said militarizing the police is harmful to both security and human rights, and diverts attention from reforming the police. “They’re not trained for security. They don’t know how to do criminal investigation or community policing. They’re trained to shoot,” Ungar said of the military police.

Furthermore, the military police were deployed without adequate training or public consultation. “The idea was that the military police would be trained for a couple months before being deployed, but apparently they were deployed almost immediately,” Ungar said. “There was very little due process in terms of hearings, or opportunities for criticism, or debate over how [the military police would be] structured and what the role is going to be. So not only do I think it is a bad idea, but the way it was rolled out was not done very well or with any element of transparency.”

The lack of training was something that the Honduras Culture and Politics blog warned about prior to the force’s deployment, in an August post:

General Rene Osorio Canales says the new force needs training and vetting, but will be ready in October.  (How much training can they get in a month?)

This proposal stirs up memories, and not good ones. Honduras used to have a militarized police force, called the Fuerza de Seguridad Publica. It had an awful reputation for human rights violations and corruption.  Its National Investigation Directorate [DNI in Spanish], responsible for “investigating” crimes, was useless.  They merely sat in the office and took crime reports (and solicited bribes) from victims.

It was actually worse than that.  Ineffectual in dealing with crime, the DNI was good at something: violence against the Honduran population.

The controversial military policing option is countered, on the other hand, by a community policing initiative, favored by Castro, as Seth Robbins described in an article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Anthropologist and historian Dana Frank warned of the dangers the new militarized force poses to human rights, as cited by Cheney in WPR:

“The deployment of the military police is extremely alarming,” said Dana Frank, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in an email interview. “Not only is the military controlled by the ruling party candidate, but he is building his campaign around promoting this further dangerous militarization of the country.”

“The military police have already committed alleged human rights abuses, and the regular military is documented to have committed widespread human rights abuses with impunity,” she added.

Nor is the military free from corruption. As the Pan-American Post wrote earlier this month:

[T]he Honduran army is not immune from criminal infiltration either. Current and former Honduran military personnel have been implicated in a range of illegal activities in recent years. In March 2012, for instance, Mexican officials arrested two former Honduran soldiers accused of providing military training to the Zetas. In November 2010, a plane seized in a drug trafficking operations was “stolen” by military personnel from an army base in San Pedro Sula. Eleven soldiers were arrested in connection with the incident, including a handful of mid-level officers and a lieutenant colonel.

As the elections near, troubling incidents of military police actions have emerged that suggest a politicized aspect of their role. A new article from the human rights organization Committee for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) describes a military police raid on the home of a labor leader. As Brigitte Gynther of School of the Americas Watch summarized the article in English:

Military Police forc[ed] their way into the house of union leader Marco Antonio Rodríguez, Vice-President of SITRAPANI (the National Child Welfare Agency Workers Union) on October 10th at 5am.   The hooded Military Police were accompanied by people in civilian clothing.  The Military Police forcibly removed Marco Antonio and his son from the house with guns pointed at their heads, forced them to lay face down in the street, and handcuffed them.  When he asked for a search warrant, the Military police responded “what search warrant, here we can do whatever we want.” 

The military police also raided the home of a well-known member of the resistance movement against the coup and LIBRE campaigner, last week, as Honduras’ Tiemporeported.

As Tricks noted, an October 15 letter from U.S. Congressmen Grijalva, Mike Honda and Hank Johnson “said the militarisation of the police threatened civil liberties.” The letter mentioned some specific recent examples as well:

Honduran media reported that the military blocked peaceful marches of the opposition this past Independence Day, September 15, and members of the Army’s Engineers’ Battalion shot and killed an indigenous activist, Tomás García, at a peaceful protest in July.

Hernández, as Honduras Culture and Politics pointed out, has spoken out about criticism of the human rights record of the Honduran security forces, but “Not, unfortunately, in the way one might hope, given Honduras’ human rights failings.” As they described it:

During a campaign event in northern Honduras, he reportedly said

“I am conscious that if a public official, a police officer or a soldier should commit a crime you have to protect human rights, but the problem is that they don’t talk about the rights of the victims.”

In other words: in order to protect crime victims, Hernández would like the police and military to have some leeway on those expectations of observing human rights.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted in a Guardian column this week, Hernández also “supported the 2009 military coup” against democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro’s husband.

 

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