Monday, October 21, 2013

Context of the Honduran Electoral Process 2012-2013: Incomplete list of Killings and Armed Attacks Related to Political Campaigning in Honduras

May 2012- present (October 19, 2013)
By: Karen Spring, Rights Action (


Full report:

As the November 24, 2013 General Elections approach in Honduras, a discussion of human rights violations surrounding the electoral process is paramount in understanding the historical and political context in which the elections will take place.

This report is intended to promote that discussion by providing a list of killings and armed attacks against candidates, party and campaign leaders, and their families since May 2012, six months prior to the November 2012 Primary Elections. The purpose is to draw attention to the context of violence, insecurity and apparently politically motivated killings that are occurring in the lead up to the 2013 General Elections.
A Brief Analysis of the Incomplete List
According to the list below, which is undoubtedly incomplete, LIBRE party (‘Libertad y Refundación’ Party) pre-candidates, candidates, their families and campaign leaders have suffered more killings and armed attacks than all other political parties combined. The disproportionate number of killings of LIBRE candidates, seems a clear indication that many of the killings have been politically motivated.

To date, the information on the list indicates that each political party has suffered the following:

Political PartyArmed AttacksKillings
National Party611
Liberal Party23
LIBRE Party1518
Partido Anti-Corrupcion (PAC)11
FAPER - Unión Democratica (UD)02
Patriotic Alliance00
Democracia Cristiana (DC)00
Partido Innovación y Unidad (PINU)00

These incomplete results highlight the terror, violence and impunity in which the November 24 General Elections will take place. Regardless of the political affiliations of the victims of these attacks, it remains unclear how “clean, credible, and reliable” elections on November 24, as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske has called for, can occur if so many attacks against candidates, campaigners and their families continue (1).

A Context of Violence and Human Rights Abuses

Honduras has maintained a two party political system for decades. However, in the wake of the June 28, 2009 military coup a strong new political force emerged, the National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP) which sought to oppose the coup through peaceful means. After overthrown president Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras, the decision to participate in the 2013 General Elections was taken by the resistance movement and the FNRP, and the first major third political party in the modern history of Honduras was created: the Libertad y Refundación (Freedom and Refoundation) party, or LIBRE. Including LIBRE candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, there are eight presidential candidates participating in the November elections involving nine political parties, as one, new, non-traditional party formed an alliance with the existing Unión Democrática (UD) party (2).

Though President Porfirio Lobo’s post-coup regime has been promoted internationally as a government of ‘Unity and National Reconciliation’, it includes none of the key actors who were forcibly removed from power during the 2009 coup. The Canadian and United States government as well as the European Union have stood behind the false projection of reconciliation and unity projected by the Honduran government (3).

Lobo’s term in office has been marked by unprecedented levels of violence; Honduras today has one of the highest homicide rates in the world coupled with a high impunity rate (4). The Lobo government’s efforts to persuade the international community that the government is taking effective action against the country’s rampant violence - as the Honduran Vice President María Antonieta Guillén attempted to do at the UN Assembly on September 27, 2013 (5), - has been followed by continued massacres and killings in Honduran streets and the on-going systematic targeting of political opponents and social activists (6).

Since the 2009 coup, international human rights organizations including the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Commission, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have noted gross human rights abuses particularly targeting certain sectors of Honduran society – lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, and opponents of the current post-coup military regime (7).

The 2013 General Elections will occur in a historical and on-going context of gross human rights abuses committed by the current government and the 5-month de facto government of Roberto Micheletti that preceded it, since June 2009. A lot weighs on the results of the General Elections whether it’s the US Government and OAS hoping for a seemingly clean, democratic and reliable election or the sympathizers of the LIBRE party, hoping for a transformation of Honduran society as per the promises and principles of the FNRP.

The coup and its repercussions over the last four years have polarized Honduran society. At odds are those hoping to change the status quo and reject the interests behind the 2009 coup – largely the FNRP and the political party that grew from that movement, the LIBRE party -and those that perpetrated and/or supported the coup and hope to maintain the status quo - largely business elites, the two traditional political parties (the National and Liberal Parties) and its allies.

Limitations of the List

This list is undoubtedly incomplete. It relies almost entirely upon reports from the Honduran media that generally underreport human rights abuses and are likely to under-report politically motivated violence. The list lacks background and circumstantial details regarding each case and does not include reports of politically motivated attacks in the form of death threats, attempted kidnappings, persecution, criminalization and attacks often classified by the Honduran state and Honduran National Police as “common crime”. It also does not include individuals that are not candidates or regional party leadership, but may have been deeply involved in the campaigning. It does include killings of and attacks on family members and campaign activists, which are a less visible manifestation of political violence.
Without a doubt many other cases are not documented because the victims and their family members, for fear of persecution, have not come forward to publically denounce the attacks. Bertha Oliva, a prominent Honduran human rights defender at the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH) has noted that there has been significant underreporting of politically –motivated attacks and murders of LIBRE activists due to fear of further persecution (8).

Uncertainty of Motives

The Honduran judicial authorities’ failure to carry out investigations of these cases, which appears to stem in part from a lack of political will, makes it impossible for family members, the victims and human rights organizations generating the type of list below, to understand the reasons and roots of the armed attacks and killings. Without a proper investigation it is difficult to determine which attacks had political motives. However, the failure of authorities to investigate, accompanied by the targeting of political opponents as major international human rights organizations have noted of the Honduran state (9).

Some of the victims who appear on this list have been deeply involved in social movements, such as Antonio Trejo, lawyer for the land rights movement MARCA and candidate for FAPER, Eric Martinez, LGBTI activist and candidate congressional pre-candidate for LIBRE, and Joni Rivas, Congressional candidate for LIBRE and leader of the United Campesino Movement of the Aguan (MUCA). The attacks against these individuals may also be related to their involvement in human rights and social justice causes. In these cases the relationship between social issues they championed and their electoral participation are inextricably related, though it adds another degree of complexity to the attacks.
An additional complex subject of debate is the role that drug-related crime may play in some of these attacks. These accusations have surfaced for example in relation to the assassination attempts reported against the current mayor and candidate for re-election, National Party in Jutiapa, Atlantida, Noe Guardado Rivera (10). Attempts against Guardado reportedly began many months before the electoral campaign was launched, with a total of 5 reported attacks (11). Guardado claims he has charged police officials with slander for statements associating the attacks with trafficking (12).

Similarly complex is the situation in San Esteban, Olancho where current Liberal Party congressman Fredy Najera was charged in the October 11, 2012 murder of National party activist Claudio Mendez Acosta (13). In August 2013, Najera was absolved in court, arguing that he was incapable of carrying out the attack as he had been injured in an attack that killed fellow Liberal party candidate Gerson Orlando Benítez on October 6, 2012 (14). Just a few days prior, Liberal party vice-mayor candidate in San Esteban, Carlos Padilla Guillen was murdered.

The intent of the incomplete list that follows is to encourage a discussion of the circumstances in which the Honduran elections will occur. Almost a month remains until Hondurans will cast their votes in the 2013 General elections. To date and since the May 2012 Primary Elections, there have been a disproportionate number of killings and attempted killings targeting LIBRE candidates. A thorough investigation of each case is a difficult if not impossible task before November 24. But our hope is that this incomplete list raises significant questions about how democratic and fair voting and election campaigning can be held in a context of on-going terror, violence and impunity affecting candidates and their families throughout the country.


(1) “Trabajar por elecciones, limpias, creíbles y confiables” recomienda Kubiske”. August 10, 2013.
(2) Papeleta Presidencial.
(3) For more information on how Canada, the US and the European Union have supported the Pepe Lobo government: D. Frank. “In Honduras: a Mess Helped by the U.S.” New York Times, January 26, 2012.; “Honduran Election Important for Reconciliation, U.S. says”; T. Gordon & J. Webber. “Canada backs profits, not human rights” The Toronto Star; August 16, 2011.“Canada Pleased with the Release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report”; “Honduras – Promoting democratic governance and reconciliation”
(4) In 2011, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, Honduras had a homicide rate of 91.6 per 100,000 inhabitants according to data collected by the Honduran National Police.; a 97% impunity rate of assassinations of journalists and lawyers according to the Honduran Human Rights Commissioner,; and in general, an 80% impunity rate of cases that are formally denounced to the Honduran state,
(5) Honduras: H.E. Mrs. María Antonieta de Bográn, Vice President. Speech to the United Nations General Assembly, September 27, 2013.
(6) “Casi 100 masacres en nueve meses” El Heraldo. October 8, 2013.
(7) “Honduras: UN official urges action to tackle chronic insecurity for lawyers, journalists” UN News Centre. September 26, 2012.; IACHR Condemns Murder of Human Rights Defenders in Honduras. IACHR. September 28, 2012.; “Honduras” Committee to Protect Journalists.
(8) “Honduras Accompaniment Project: Summary of Human Rights Issues and Events in Honduras, July, August & September 2013” PROAH. September 5, 2013.
(9) See several reports generated from human rights testimonies taken by the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) at, and “Informe de la Comisión de Verdad”, October 2012. Available at:
and also (7)
(10) “Atentan por cuarta vez contra alcalde de Jutiapa” El Heraldo. August 30, 2012.
(11) “Quinto atentado contra alcalde hondureño. El Heraldo. March 19, 2013.
(12) See source on chart
(13) “El lunes dictarán sentencia a diputado Fredy Nájera”. La Prensa. August 15, 2013. 97/el-lunes-dictarán-sentencia-a-diputado-fredy-nájera
(14) “Absuelven a diputado Fredy Najera Montoya”. El Tiempo. August 19, 2013.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Advocacy versus Activism: What is the difference?

Apparently ‘activism’ is a ‘dirty word’ based on how people think about activists and what they do in our society (UBC, 2010; Cucow, 2011). And who knew? I certainly didn’t … and I’ve been calling myself a human rights activist for years.
To get a sense of the differences, I googled ‘activism’ and ‘advocacy’ on Google Images to see what kind of imagery is associated with either term. Below are two photos that may demonstrate the way that people think about both change agents.



Whereas in the majority of photos, advocacy is displayed as a process of dialogue, friendly exchange or negotiation, activism is depicted as a more radical process, involving direct action such as protesting. In many images, activists are depicted as violent.

So what is the main difference and how can that difference help us understand our role as ‘change makers?

Advocacy and activism are tools to create some sort of social and political change. Advocacy is often thought of as “an act of publicly representing an individual, organization, or idea” and used as an umbrella term for many intervention tactics such as “speaking, writing or acting in favour of a participate issue or cause, policy or group of people.” (ChangeThink, 2011; PHAC, 2010). This can include lobbying which the Public Health Agency of Canada prefers to distinguish from advocacy in terms of public health interventions because lobbying is conducted “by a special interest group [that] may or may not be in the public interest” (PHAC, 2010).

According to, actress Angelina Jolie is an example of an advocate who uses her fame to advocate for refugees in her position as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador (UNHCR) (no date).

Activism, on the other hand, often has a less favorable reputation even though by definition, it can be viewed as simply a form of advocacy. Activism is described as “a policy of taking direct action to achieve a political or social goal” (Zeitz, 2008). The term implies a direct action or intervention such as a protest in favour of change. According to blogger Shane Cucow, activism can be seen as part of the advocacy process or the action(s) that advocates take, such as organize a deliberate and direct protest, to increase awareness or push for change (2011).

According to DoSomething,org, Rosa Parks is an example of an activist. Parks was a civil rights activist in the United States that challenged racial segregation and is known for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a public bus (no date).

Advocacy is often seen as working “within the system” whereas activism is seen as working “outside the system” to generate change (UBC, 2010). The implications of this understanding are discussed in length between two professors; Dr. R. Deibert and Dr. J. Kennelly in a panel at the University of British Columbia titled “Advocate or Activist: What is the best way to effect change?” (podcast available here). Dr. Kennelly discusses her ethnographic research with activists across Canada describing how activists “often feel left out of public discourse, and/or feel that they don’t always fit in” to the political and/or social process (UBC, 2010).

Is it possible that people that call themselves ‘activists’ have given up on working “within the system” and feel like more “radical” actions is necessary to bring about true and transformative change? If ‘advocating’ for a healthier society does not produce results, as public health ‘change makers’, when do we become ‘activists’ and work “outside the system”? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working “within the system” or “outside the system”?
Both terms are not without a few drawbacks. Both concepts remove the importance of collective action in bringing about change. It is important to question our role as advocates if we are ‘speaking on behalf of a community, group or individual’ and how being a spokesperson affects collective action and the agency of the individuals to whom we are representing. The same applies to activism. Most importantly, both terms undermine the importance of recognizing the long and often difficult road to change that requires collective action from many individuals, communities and organizations that work both “inside” and “outside” the system.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

El Sur También Existe (The South Also Exists)

* English translation below

A Poem by/Por: Mario Benedetti

Con su ritual de acero
sus grandes chimeneas
sus sabios clandestinos
su canto de sirenas
sus cielos de neón
sus ventas navideñas
su culto de dios padre
y de las charreteras
con sus llaves del reino
el norte es el que ordena

pero aquí abajo abajo
el hambre disponible
recurre al fruto amargo
de lo que otros deciden
mientras el tiempo pasa
y pasan los desfiles
y se hacen otras cosas
que el norte no prohibe
con su esperanza dura
el sur también existe

con sus predicadores
sus gases que envenenan
su escuela de chicago
sus dueños de la tierra
con sus trapos de lujo
y su pobre osamenta
sus defensas gastadas
sus gastos de defensa
con sus gesta invasora
el norte es el que ordena

pero aquí abajo abajo
cada uno en su escondite
hay hombres y mujeres
que saben a qué asirse
aprovechando el sol
y también los eclipses
apartando lo inútil
y usando lo que sirve
con su fe veterana
el Sur también existe

con su corno francés
y su academia sueca
su salsa americana
y sus llaves inglesas
con todos su misiles
y sus enciclopedias
su guerra de galaxias
y su saña opulenta
con todos sus laureles
el norte es el que ordena

pero aquí abajo abajo
cerca de las raíces
es donde la memoria
ningún recuerdo omite
y hay quienes se desmueren
y hay quienes se desviven
y así entre todos logran
lo que era un imposible
que todo el mundo sepa
que el Sur también existe

The South Also Exists

With its ritual of steel
its great chimneys
its secret scholars
its siren song
its neon skies
its Christmas sales
its cult of God the Father
and of epaulets
with its keys
to the kingdom
The North is the one
who orders

But down here, down
hunger at hand
resorts to the bitter fruit
of what others decide
while time passes
and pass the parades
and other things
that the North does not forbid
with its hard hope
The South also exists

With its preachers
its poison gases
its Chicago school
its owners of the Earth
with its luxurious costume
and its meager frame
with its epic of invasion
The north is the one who orders

But down here, down
each in their hideaway
are men and women
who know what to grasp
making the most of the sun
and eclipses
putting useless things aside
and using what is useful.
with its veteran faith
The South also exists

With its French horns
and its Swedish academy
its American sauce
and its English wrenches
with all its missiles
and its encyclopedias
its war of galaxies
and its rich cruelty
with all its laurels
The North is the one who orders

But down here, down
near the roots
is where memory
omits no memory
and there are those
who defy death for
and die for
and thus together achieve
what is impossible
and the whole world
would know
that the south,
that the south also exists.

Translation found:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Metal Bones: Working in a sweatshop in Honduras

Honduras and Nicaragua are two Central American countries that are home to many North American sweatshop companies like Russell Brand, Hanes and Gildan.

Like many North American transnational companies including those involved in the apparel industry, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an important marketing strategy in promoting the clean and responsible image of the companies. Building schools, providing scholarships, buying supplies, funding a new community police, implementing voluntary ergonomics programs in sweatshops, etc. Its all part of the CSR myth that ultimately serves as nothing but a good argument why companies don't need legal regulations ..... they are already responsible as it is!

Doesn't Montreal, Canada-based Gildan's advertisement below make you really want to buy some of its stocks on the Toronto Stock Exchange? Or what about their web page devoted entirely to CSR?

On the flip side, the affected populations of these companies often tell different stories. Speaking with Honduran women working in Gildan's factories, Gildan is known amongst the sweatshop working population in Honduras as being one of the biggest violators of workers' rights. Repetitive work, long hours, high production quotas, minimal air conditioning in the large factory and a health clinic that will hand you some pills or inject you with meds, if you complain about occupational health problems.

One worker, recently fired from her position in a Gildan factory told me that the company's medical professionals kept giving her medication when she complained of an inflamed shoulder, for almost a year, promising that they would inspect her work post and consider transferring her to another position in the factory. This would have allowed her to change her repetitive movements which involved sewing the sleeves on 500 dozen t-shirts per day.

Question: How many times did you go to Gildan's health clinic inside the factory complaining about pain in your shoulder?

Worker: "On many occasions because when one goes to the clinic for the first time, they usually say the pain is from stress. After going various times, the doctor told me that she was going to evaluate my work post and every time I went to the clinic to see her with an inflamed shoulder, she would send me home and tell me she would do the evaluation. She said this 5 times but she never did it. My supervisor was well aware that I was sick because when I got up from my machine, like when I felt I couldn't produce anymore because I couldn't stand the pain, I received a lot of pressure from my fellow workers [in sweatshops they work in teams of 26 and all push each other to make the production quota in order to make less than $75/week] - they would tell me to hurry up and that they don't want people on their team that can't work ..."

Another worker suffering from back and shoulder pain made a reference to 'metal bones' as in workers are not treated like humans and instead are expected to operate like robots as if they have metal bones.


So back to CSR, a topic that I'd rather forget about but that infuriates me every time I hear sweatshop workers complain of their horrible working conditions and occupational health problems. I think I'll just share a great quote from a man that worked in an industry that for decades used CSR to hide the negative health effects of tobacco smoke on the population.

The Social reporting process or corporate social responsibility "will not only help British American Tobacco achieve a position of recognized responsibility but also provide 'air cover' from criticism while improvements are being made. Essentially, it provides a degree of publicly-endorsed amnesty" - Michael Prideaux, British American Tobacco (1999)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Paradise in Garifuna communities in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

I think I found paradise in Honduras.
Its paradise because unlike the neoliberal tourist project 'Los Micos' funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank proposed for Tela Bay, Honduras and another top-down "development" cruise ship dock and gated community project being built by Canadians in Trujillo Bay, the Garifuna community of Cacahuate on a small 'cayo', runs and practices their own vision of tourism.
Approximately 40 Garifuna families living on Cacahuate, pool and share the money earned by cooking delicious plates of fish, lobster and shrimp for visiting tourists and providing home stays for those that wish to be completely surrounded by the ocean as they sleep at night. As a politically organized community, Cacahuate fought hard with help from the Garifuna organization, OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras) against powerful interests to keep their island from being taken away from them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The new Military Police make their debut

The new Military Police in Honduras marching in the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa on September 15th Independence Day. This picture is terrible - I took it while watching the reruns of the videos aired on Honduran TV over and over again. This is probably one of the first public appearances of the Military Police or 'Policia Militar del Orden Publico', a new force created by a new law approved by the Honduran Congress in April 2013. The new police unit, under the control of the Honduran Armed Forces, is training in Naco, Honduras, the same base where the TIGRES, another military-style police force created earlier this year is training as well. The NACO Regional base is just outside of San Pedro Sula and the location of a former (as far as I know) U.S. Forward Operating Base. Based on its public appearance on September 15, I think its far to say that these guys are scary looking. And I'm just talking about their overall physical image. As Hondurans head to the polls to vote in the 2013 General Elections in November and the Honduran military are in the streets performing police functions; the creation of the two specialized military police forces is another example of the extreme militarization of Honduran society.