Category Archives: Articles

UPDATE #2: Delegates Safely Return from Rio Blanco, but Tensions Remain High

cattrip3 004UPDATE #2 (11/21/2013): After an in-person interview with one of the delegation leaders, we can confirm that all delegates have returned safely from their visit to examine the conditions in Tejera, Rio Blanco. They walked out and met  their transport vehicles this morning on the road at Santa Ana. However, for residents in Tejera, the situation remains tense. There is concern that the road block maintained by members of the DESA Hydroelectric company and their local henchmen may be used to impede the voting rights of people from Rio Blanco on Sunday. The delegation has requested that people continue to call the police commanders of the region to insist that the voting rights of the people of Rio Blanco be respected by guaranteeing them safe and open passage in and out of the community, especially in direction of Zacapa, where some of them are scheduled to vote.

Sr. Martel 011 504 9706-9308
Sr. Bonilla 011 504 9700-2801
Sr. Mejía 011 504 3258-1440

UPDATE: The delegates have arrived in Tejera, Rio Blanco. The HSN group is spending the night in the community. They have asked for the calls to keep coming, given that the road in and out of Rio Blanco is blocked for all other traffic. Call and let them know that you’re concerned about the safety of the HSN delegation and that you want the police to respect the free passage for all residents of Rio Blanco to go and come as they please. The two commissioners are: Martel 011 504 9706-9308 and Bonilla 011 504 9700-2801. Of course you can also keep trying the number of Mejía 011 504 3258-1440

*HSN Communications Team – Northern Zone

The following is a translation of the original COPINH press statement:

Intibucá, Nov. 20, 2013. URGENT ALERT! International Human Rights Delegation detained en route to Rio Blanco. This afternoon an International Human Rights delegation was detained at a checkpoint set up by DESA employees, four members of the Santa Ana town council, under watch of the national Police, the Honduran Army and the Mayor of Zacapa.

cattrip3 002
Residents of Rio Blanco stand at the roadblock they have maintained April 1. (Photo date: 11/18/2013, two days before the current alert. Photo credit: Jason Wallach)

The delegation was heading toward Rio Blanco with the intention of meeting with the communities of Rio Blanco and COPINH to investigate recent allegations of human rights violations and the criminalization of the local people opposed to the construction of the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project/ DESA. The delegation is comprised of 20 US and Canadian citizens who hail from internationally recognized organizations such as School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), Sister Cities, and the Canadian Press.

Delegates stopped at the roadblock were told that if they were to continue their journey, and threatened that they would not be allowed to return, and that the group would never leave the area. These actions are part of a repressive campaign targeting COPINH and the people Rio Blanco. The campaign has intensified in the past month more militarization and harassment by DESA employees utilizing their “operation freedom.” We do not doubt that this intensification coincides with the approaching elections and is aimed at the vulnerability of communities.

WE CALL OUT to all solidarity groups, and Honduran and international Human Rights organizations to denounce this violation, to demand free passage for all in Rio Blanco, and to respect the rights of the Lenca indigenous people to maintain their own relations with solidarity groups and human rights organizations, international reporters and COPINH members. We condemn this paramilitary action which is unacceptable, as is the fact of preventing the transit of the only bus used by the people of Rio Blanco to travel to and from their homes. We also call for solidarity to accompany Rio Blanco and the Honduran people, and to redouble their efforts to ensure respect for human rights of Lenca people and the Honduran people in general.

Reprinted from the COPINH General Council



Presente! Update on Honduras Oct 2013 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?


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

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
Barrio Las Delicias, Frente la Llantera Lempira, Intibucá, Intibucá Honduras. CA; FB Copinh Intibuca; Web:;
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)


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!
Intibucá, October 21st, 2013



CEPR: 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.