Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Future of Honduran Public Insecurity: Violations of the Military Police of Public Order

The militarization of Honduran streets shows no signs of stopping. On November 11th, the Honduran press announced that one thousand additional Military Police – a new, elite, hybrid military-police force – would be trained and sent to the streets. Four days later, the National Defense and Security Council headed by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez asked the National Congress to take the necessary measures to approve the Military Police as a permanent security force under the Honduran Constitution.

The recent push to consolidate the Military Police contributed to a minor police scandal that erupted last week when the National Director of the Police, Ramon Sabillon refused to step down after being illegally fired from his position. The scandal was partially caused by fears amongst the National Police and some sectors of Honduran society that the permanent and growing status of the Military Police will render the National Police force obsolete.

With more soldiers in the streets, Honduras is becoming more and more militarized by the day. To date, there have been limited results in generating security and safer streets for it’s citizens.

Creation of Military Police Linked to Canada and US Regional Security Strategies

The Honduran Congress approved a temporary decree that created the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) on August 22, 2013. Beginning early October of the same year, the hybrid military-police force was sent to the streets under the command of the Honduran Armed Forces. Known as the special security unit of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, its biggest promoter, the Military Police are military soldiers with military training funded by a Security Tax or the Tasa de Seguridad. Approved in June 2011, the Honduran Security Tax is believed to have been created to fund the security initiatives proposed under the Central American Security Strategy (CASS) of the Central American Integration System (SICA). Interestingly, the Tasa de Seguridad was approved by the Honduran Congress in the same month that SICA countries adopted the Central American Security Strategy. The Security Tax is used to fund Honduran security institutions and strategy of the Hernandez government, supported by the U.S. and Canada.

SICA-CASS is an umbrella, multilateral security initiative formed under the leadership of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Two major North American security initiatives in Central America are aligned with CASS: the US Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Canadian Initiative for Security in Central America (CISCA). Both Canada and the US are joined by other countries committed to SICA-CASS including Japan, Columbia, and Germany, as well as International Financial Institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Juan Orlando Hernandez argues that the Military Police will ensure citizen security and safer streets particularly as the National Police are undergoing a purging or depuración process. According to the President, Hondurans no longer trust the police, and the Military Police can stop the violence and insecurity rampant in what some now call Honduras, the “murder capital of the world”.

(Publicly Known) Abuses Committed by the Military Police Since Their Creation

The Military Police are anything but a solution to the corrupt National Police force. Since being sent to the streets in October of last year, Military Police have been involved in various human rights violations, some against members of the political opposition. The following is a short list of these publicly known abuses:

* Raided the house of union leader and LIBRE member Marco Antonio Rodriguez, October 10, 2013.
In a Special Operation and within one week of being on the street, the Military Police (MP) raided the house of the Vice President of the National Child Welfare Union (SITRAPANI), Marco Antonio Rodriguez. MP pointing weapons at Rodriguez and his family members and forcing them to lie face down on the street. When asked to see the search warrant, the MP responded, “What search warrant, here we can do what we want.”

* Raided the house of FNRP activist, Edwin Espinal, October 23, 2013.
In another Special Operation, the MP broke down the doors to Espinal’s house accusing him of possessing illegal weapons and drugs. The search warrant presented to Espinal read “Robelo [as Espinal is known in his community] belongs to the LIBRE party and is one of the leaders of that area.” Along with GPS coordinates of the location of his house, the warrant also noted that: “outside, [the house] has a LIBRE flag."

* Evicted former President Zelaya, LIBRE Congressional representatives, and supporters from Congress, May 13, 2014.
Protesting the silencing of political debate in Congress, the political opposition in Congress led by President Manual Zelaya, ousted in a military coup in June 2009, were violently evicted by the MP. The MP shot several cans of tear gas and beat protestors and some LIBRE Congressional representatives.

* Beat up, mistreated, and detained children’s rights defender, Jose Guadalupe Ruelas, Director of Casa Alianza, May 8, 2014.

Source: HonduPresa

Driving home from a human rights forum, Ruelas was beaten and detained by MP after being ordered to stop at an MP check-point in Tegucigalpa. After stopping, a police motorcycle colliding with Ruelas’ vehicle. Ruelas was violently removed from his vehicle, struck on his head, back, and legs, and detained.

* Two Military Police were arrested in western Honduras for permitting the escape of two individuals taking contraband into Guatemala, July 2014.
Two Military Police were arrested by Honduran police on charges of violation of official duties and evasion after allowing two individuals driving a truck carrying contraband to escape and cross the border into Guatemala.

*Shot at a public bus in Tegucigalpa after it failed to stop at a Military Police check-point, October 1, 2014
Source: El Heraldo

After failing to stop at a checkpoint managed by the Military Police in Tegucigalpa, the MP fired at the back window of a public bus carrying fourteen passengers. Four people were injured – two with bullet wounds, and two from broken glass.

* Gang raped a female sweatshop worker in San Pedro Sula, November 2014
A woman reported that she was picked up by the Military Police while waiting for a bus after leaving work in the northern Honduran city, San Pedro Sula. She was forced to get into the back of the truck and taken to an isolated area where she was raped by eight MP.


Within one year of being present in the streets, the variety and quantity of abuses committed by the Military Police are concerning, particularly as their presence is likely to increase. The promotion of the Military Police by the Honduran President and the National Defense and Security Council, is undoubtedly causing major tension between the National Police and the MP on the streets of Honduras. One example is a recent public shoot out that occurred between the military and the police, the result of a dispute over the police not permitting the military vehicle to pass. This tension has the potential to create serious security concerns for Honduran citizens on top of the already grave insecurity crisis in the country.

Monday, November 17, 2014

In Memory of Adolfo Castañeda, Campesino Leader in the Aguan Valley, Honduras

Adolfo Castañeda, May 2012.

I have an unforgettable moment of Adolfo Castañeda, an amazing campesino leader from the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras that died recently of natural causes (based on what is reported at the moment). Adolfo was a founding leader of the campesino movement in the 70s, a major opponent of the illegal land transfers under the Modernization Law in the 1990s, and lost his son who was murdered in Colon in 2014. He was a founding member of the United Campesino Movement of the Aguan (MUCA).

One day, I took a group to talk to him roughly an hour before dusk in northern Honduras. He stood under the African palm trees in La Aurora finca that he and the United Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA) were farming, occupying, and recuperating from large land owners in the Aguan Valley. He spoke with passion about his years of being part of a campesino movement fighting for land rights and a better life for his children, something that he insisted, he would never stop doing until the day he died.

Adolfo told us the way in which the US continued to support the Honduran government and military. He described all the repression he had faced over the years as a campesino leader fighting for land in Honduras including how he learned how to stand against the trunks of the African palm trees and slowly circulating under them to avoid the bright light that helicopters would shine into the fincas in search of campesinos occupying the land.

He told us that he wasn't angry at us (American and Canadian citizens) for what our governments do on their imperialist missions to promote their economic interests but insisted that we go home and tell everyone what was happening in Honduras and how land was being stolen from poor campesinos for agrobusiness. He was so articulate and so proud to share his analysis - understanding what was happening inside his finca against his compañer@s and land while connecting it with US foreign policy in Honduras.

After hearing such powerful words, myself and other members of the group, got back into the car. It was almost dark but we could still make out the African palm trees inside the finca. As we started the vehicle and drove away, Adolfo walked back into the palm trees. He didn't look back at us, just simply walked into the haunting shadows of the large trees planted on the land that he had spent his life fighting for and defending.

RIP Adolfo Castañeda. Memories of you will live on in the struggles of the campesinos in the Aguan Valley.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Canada-based Aura Minerals Ready to Dig up the Dead in Honduras

In April 2014, the community of Azacualpa blocked the entrance of the San Andres mine in La Unión, Copan, in western Honduras. The open-pit gold mine is owned by Minerales de Occidente, a subsidiary of Toronto-based mining company, Aura Minerals who acquired the mine in August 2009.

A few weeks after initiating the blockade, the community was violently evicted by Honduran military and police who beat protesters including minors, shot tear gas, and arrested those that stuck around to fight the evict or that lived close to where it took place. Radio Progreso reports that various people were arrested and 21 community members face charges requiring them to sign before a Honduran judge every month.

According to a community member that asked that her name not be revealed because of the delicate security situation in the area: "A large group from the community and former employees of the mine blocked the entrance of the mine for .. some days, 15 days. The company refused to negotiate, they told us that they had nothing to say to us. The military arrived, beat, and captured some people .. I think 15 people, but I'm not sure, many were injured"

A 20-minute video shot on a community member's cell phone (that is shaky and needs some editing) caught and recorded the eviction:

Upon initiating the blockade, the residents of Azacualpa were protesting the expansion of the mining operation, including a potential threat that operations would expand into the community's cemetery. According to Radio Progreso's report, the Azacualpa residents agreed to be relocated to a new area before the operations expanded, but since the agreement was reached the company's commitment failed to materialized. However, despite the relocation agreement, the community leadership says that they did not want the company to operate in the cemetery, where approximately 400 families lay their loved ones to rest.

As Orlando Rodriguez, the Vice President of the patronato (the community leadership) told Radio Progreso:

"They [the mining company] want to exploit the land of the cemetery but the community is not in agreement, we have our public deed that gives us the power to prevent it. They claim that they have permission to exploit 50 metres from the cemetery, we as the elected community leadership decided to consult the people house-by-house and the majority do not agree that the remains in the cemetery are removed, but they have used force because they have militarized the area and continue to exploit."

Following the eviction, Honduran military remained in the community for approximately three weeks and Aura Minerals continues its operations that a community member described as "very close to the boundaries of the cemetery."

"They put military soldiers in the cemetery, there are only guards now but yes, after that, a lot of time passed, I think three weeks, that the military was patrolling. There were a lot of military cars patrolling the area. They were going to put up a big gate so that people could not enter [the cemetery]."

Ending a seven-year mining moratorium, the law was approved in January 2013. Mining operations - many of which are owned by transnational corporations - are expanding and/or beginning in various parts of Honduras. Canadian companies like Aura Minerals have directly benefited from the new legal framework that was written with support and assistance from the Canadian government and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Since its approval last year, two legal challenges have been presented against the law and various communities and organizations argue that the process in which the law was written and the law itself, completely ignore the demands of communities that have and will be affected by mining operations in their territory.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Boats Seized in 'Drug War,' Unusable for Local Fishermen

Without getting too much into property and asset seizures of drug traffickers in Honduras, I found it interesting when I saw a handful of large, abandoned, high-speed boats (without motors) abandoned on the shore of an island in the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras last week.

Seized from drug traffickers, the Honduran Administrating Office of Seized Good (Oficina Administradora de Bienes Incautados or OABI by its Spanish acronym) donated the boats to "three fishing organizations" in the Gulf of Fonseca for fishing or ecotourism. Along the shore where we visited, there were approximately 10 of these abandoned boats with Gobierno de la Republica: Working for a better life signs and a painted OABI with a number on them.

The local fisherman I was with told me about how they had been abandoned at the shore of the Gulf because no local fisherman would ever be able to afford to buy the size of motor that the boat requires. We were traveling in a small boat with a 40 horsepower motor which, based on the conversations between the friends I was with before departing, is somewhat large in comparison with the rest of the boat owners where we departed in Marcovia, Choluteca. The fisherman I was with joked that the boats were donated to fisherman but that they were totally unusable and thus abandoned.

Small boats used by local fishermen (on the left) versus big boats used by narcos to transport drugs (on the right)