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Friday, November 27, 2015

Canada’s Aura Minerals Terrorizing Honduran Communities For Protecting Their Cemetery

Photo caption: Standing at the edge of the sharp cut in the mountain, less than 100 meters from the edge of the community cemetery

In the evening on Monday, November 23, ten leaders from the mining-affected communities of Azacualpa and San Andres Minas were stopped at a police checkpoint as they left Santa Rosa de Copan in western Honduras. Three of the leaders – Miguel Lopez, Genaro Rodriguez and Orlando Rodriguez – all part of the Azacualpa Environmental Committee were held overnight at the police station on charges of usurpation. Lopez, Rodriguez, and Rodriguez are expected to appear before a judge for a hearing scheduled for December 17th.

Upon returning to Azacualpa after their release, dozens of residents from the community greeted the three leaders at the entrance with a caravan and setting off firecrackers in celebration. The community also reaffirmed its support to maintain a blockade that they started on November 9th, located at the base of a steep cut in the side of Cemetery Mountain (Cerro Cementerio). Without access to the mountainside, Aura cannot continue to encroach on the perimeters of the community cemetery, now located less than 100 meters from the steep slice in the side of the mountain.
The recent detentions and provocation are part of a criminalization and repression campaign against the communities and the Azacualpa Environmental Committee. Tired of Aura’s broken promises and failure to fulfill a 2012 agreement with mining-affected communities in the municipality of La Unión, residents of Azacualpa and San Andres Minas have decided to protect what is left of the two mountain tops – Cerro Cementerio and Cerro Los Hornillos – closest to their communities, both of which are in Aura Mineral’s expansion plans.

Using Corruption and Impunity To Force The Closure of Community Cemetery

At the service of the Canadian mining company, Honduran institutions including the Permanent Contingency Commission (COPECO) and the Ministry of Public Health have recently attempted to declare the cemetery unfit citing that it is dangerous, susceptible to land slides, unsanitary, and fails to meet public health standards. Their sudden interests in the conditions of the cemetery coincide with Aura Minerals’ interests in expansion.

Community members argue that the mining operations in close proximity to the cemetery, against the wishes of the local residents, have created some of the conditions being used to justify its destruction. Other justifications are just flat-out inventions. They argue that the corrupt Honduran state – security forces, public prosecutors’ offices, and other state institutions – are simply protecting and acting on the interests of the mining monster in their backyard.
In an effort to stop the expansion of the mine, in April 2014 local residents blocked a public road outside one of the entrances of the San Andres mine. It was violently evicted by military and police and charges were pressed against nineteen community members, who are still required to appear before a judge every month. In January 2015, residents of Azacualpa held a community consultation (cabildo abierto) in coordination with the mayor’s office. Azacualpa declared that they were against the closure and relocation of their cemetery and demand that Aura Minerals respect their wishes. The consultation is another effort by the community to demand respect for their gravesites where local communities bury their loved ones.

Photo caption: Standing at the base of the mountainside at the location of the community-led blockade to prevent expansion of mining operation

Photo caption: Community cemetery

Drones, Military Intelligence and Shady Business Contacts: Aura Mineral’s Tactics in Honduras

Immediately following the release of the three leaders of the Azacualpa Environmental Committee early this week, affected communities denounced the presence of a drone hovering over the location of the blockade. They believe that the drone is being utilized by Aura Minerals and its’ private security company, Servicios Especiales de Seguridad (SESER) to provoke the community and to take pictures of and identify individuals participating in the blockade.

Contributing to the fear and tension, the local communities are aware of Aura Mineral’s business relationships in the region. Its private security company, SESER is owned by Angel Rene Romero, a former military commander and congressional candidate for the National Party in the Department of Copan. Rene Romero was part of the infamous military Battalion 3-16 in the 1980s, an intelligence unit inside the Honduran military responsible for political assassinations and torture of state opponents.

Another contract that Aura Minerals holds at its’ San Andres gold mine, is with a Honduran transportation company called INCOBE. The contract involves various machinery and dump trucks that move crushed rock to the location of the mine’s leaching pads. Owned and operated by the Benitez family based in Santa Rosa de Copan, INCOBE holds the concession for the iron ore mine in El Nispero, Santa Barbara, Honduras, where anti-mining and community leader Rigoberto Lopez Hernandez was brutally murdered in May 2014. Lopez Hernandez’s throat had been slit, his tongue cut out, and his murdered body publicly displayed as a clear message to environmentalists around the country in resistance to mining operations.

Canada’s Complicity in Aura Minerals’ Tactics and Operations in Honduras

Aura Minerals was one of few mining companies that operated through the violent and repressive aftermath of the June 28, 2009 military coup in Honduras. Eight months after the coup in February 2010, and in clear support of the post-coup Honduran regime and its economic interests, then President of Aura Minerals, Patrick Downey visited Honduras accompanied by mining and corporate investors and the Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder. The visit was centered on encouraging the Honduran government to approve a new mining law that would lift the 2006 moratorium that prevented new concessions from being granted.

Years later on January 23, 2013, the Honduran Congress passed and ratified a new mining law without any consultation with mining-affected communities, environmental and human rights groups. Mining Watch Canada publicly denounced that the development of the new Honduran mining law received assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), thus reaffirming the strong support that the Canadian mining industry receives from the Canadian government.

With no respect for community consultations, local discontent, and the protection of a community cemetery, Aura Minerals, supported by the Canadian government is generating more violence in Honduras – one of the most violent countries in the world. As drones snap pictures of the faces of local residents protecting their community cemetery, and former military intelligence commanders protect the interests of foreign investment, Honduran communities are placed in increasingly vulnerable circumstances to the benefit and profit of the Canadian mining industry.

Photo caption: Approximately 120 houses built by Aura Minerals as part of an agreement with the community of Azacualpa. Aura agreed to build three different housing styles and 396 houses in total. Both the number, the styles, and additional community projects as part of the relocation process were violated by the mining company.

Photo caption: Climbing up to the community blockade, La Unión, Copan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Two Educational Videos: ZEDEs & Tourism Projects on Garifuna Land

ZEDES: NEOCOLONIALISM AND LAND GRABBING IN HONDURAS

A new film about ZEDEs has been released on YouTube titled, “ZEDEs: neocolonialism and land grabbing in Honduras.” The 20-minute film was produced by members of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) with filmmaker Lazar Konforti and HSN Honduras Coordinator Karen Spring. The film highlights the personal struggles and the legal battles that are beginning to materialize now that ZEDE projects are being planned and developed in Honduras. Please disseminate this film to your contacts, social media, and add it to your organization's website or newsletter. There is no need to obtain permission for screenings. The Spanish version is available here. For further information, see the NLG International Committee website at nlginternational.org.



CANADIAN PORN KING ON TRIAL FOR TOURISM PROJECTS IN HONDURAS

On November 13th, 2015, Canadian tourism developer Randy Jorgensen, aka “The Porn King”, appeared in court on charges of illegally appropriating ancestral Garifuna lands. The court ruled partially in Jorgensen’s favour, choosing not to go to a full trial for the time being, but local communities smell corruption and vow to appeal this ruling in Honduran courts and keep on fighting all the way to international tribunals, meaning that Jorgensen’s and others’ investments remain in legal limbo and could still be in jeopardy.



Check out the website Los Despojados for more great work by filmmaker Lazar Konforti

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Canadian Tourism and Real Estate Developer Appears Before Honduran Judge

On November 13, 2015, Canadian tourist and real estate investor, Randy Jorgensen appeared before a judge in Trujillo, Honduras. Jorgensen is being accused of illegal possession of approximately 81 manzanas of land where his company Life Vision Developments has developed the gated-community of Campa Vista. The lots inside Campa Vista are being sold to North Americans seeking vacation homes on the beautiful Caribbean coast of Honduras. Jorgensen illegally obtained the land through fraudulent sales of land inside the ancestral land title of the Garifuna community of Rio Negro and Cristales.

The Honduran judge overseeing the hearing ruled 'sobreseimiento provisional' or a provisional stay which means that there is insufficient evidence to proceed to trial but that the Honduran state representing the Garifuna community has five years to present further evidence. Given the serious accusations against Jorgensen and the threat that the gated-community Campa Vista presents to the cultural integrity and land rights of the Garifuna in Trujillo Bay, the community of Rio Negro and Cristales intend to appeal the decision. The Garifuna communities were not entirely surprised by the judge's decision on the case. Corruption and impunity is rampant in the Honduran judicial system and more likely than not to sway the ruling in favour of a foreign investor with strong political connections.

Over 150 Garifuna gathered outside of the courthouse as the hearing was underway. Marching first from the Cristales neighbourhood, we arrived to the courthouse shortly after the hearing begun. Drumming, singing, holding signs declaring their indigenous rights under the International Labour Organization (ILO) 169 convention, and a banner that read "Randy Roy Jorgensen out of Garifuna territory", the Garifuna communities showed their determination to defend their ancestral rights.


Photo caption: Banner reads "Randy Roy Jorgensen out of Garifuna territory." All photos by Karen Spring


Photo caption: Marching from the Garifuna neighbourhood of Cristales in Trujillo to the courthouse


Photo caption: Protesting outside of the courthouse




Photo caption: Canadian "Porn King" Randy Jorgensen charged with illegal possession of land arrives to the courthouse in Trujillo, Honduras.


Photo caption: Randy Jorgensen (left) waving obnoxiously to the Garifuna community waiting outside the courthouse to hear the results. Hernan Batres (middle), the General Manager of the cruise ship terminal constructed by Jorgensen's second company in Trujillo, Banana Coast, accompanied Jorgensen to the hearing.

Friday, November 6, 2015

National Day of Protest 4/11

On Wednesday, November 4th, social movements and organizations around the country organized protests, blocked off roads, and occupied public universities. Below is a communique (first in English and then Spanish) signed by 52 organizations that outlines why the National Day of Protest was organized and what the movements are demanding. Throughout the communique, I have posted pictures of the protests.

Photo caption: San Pedro Sula. Photo by: Radio Progreso

POLITICAL POSITIONING: MOVEMENTS OF RESISTANCE AND POPULAR INDIGNATION

NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST 4/11

In light of the deep political, economic, and social crisis affecting the country due to the grim neoliberal, pro-imperialist, Zionist policies applied by Juan Orlando Hernandez, exacerbated by the monstrous cases of corruption with participation by a government that has hijacked the institutionality of the state in collusion with powerful groups with links to drug trafficking and organized crime.
The immediate, occurring effect is a panorama of hunger and death for Honduran society and in particular, the most impoverished sectors. However, the economic and social policies of JOH are based on privatization, the sacrifice of the people, the indebtedness and use of public funds to buy the conscience of the population in greatest need; coupled with the trafficking of influences in the quest for re-election at any cost, thus generating an environment of uncertainty and of State violence. However, for JOH, everything is going wrong, the chaos that he has created in the country not only expels thousands of countrymen and women to forced migration but discredits the country at the international level placing it not only as the most violent in the world but with the largest inequality gap.
Photo caption: Comayagua, Honduras. Photo by: COPINH
The agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has come to increase the ranks of the unemployed and the violations of rights, tax increases, and budget reductions for the most basic services that has generated a situation of social pressure that will explode with more force at any time. This is why the Movements of Resistance and Popular Indignation, after various months of permanent struggle to free ourselves from the cancer of corruption and of the person in charge of this crisis that has reached unimaginable levels, we have found ourselves organizing this November 4th, a national day of protest on the way to a National Strike, protest actions as the only way to remove this murderous, corrupt government and enemy of the people, transgressor of the most elementary rights and, that has as its only intention to extend its term in power through political party supporters and political favoritism to the detriment of all male and female workers.
Photo caption: El Progreso. Photo by: Unknown
Our struggle is also for self-determination and, we condemn imperialist intervention either through the Organization of American States (OAS), or the U.S. government, an expert in making all of our people slaves, and to fill our families with mourning in the name of the supposed fight against drug trafficking that they themselves promote. This by no means signifies that we support any drug trafficker, we denounce the lies of the empire, since its only interest is to recolonize then to plunder our common goods of nature, using any advantage to manipulate through its government foot soldiers and historical executioners.
Photo caption: Tela area. Photo by: Unknown
From this space of national articulation, we do not recognize any dialogue initiated by the Organization of American States (OAS), from now on we question the legitimacy of any decision that any indignant movement or, from the poorly named civil society that claim, for personal interests to be representatives before these organizations and other subsidiaries and servants of the Empire. In this regard, we do not recognize institutions that are instrumentalized that assign themselves representation in the name of the people that have not been delegated to do so and that do not represent us. To all the workers of Continental Group, we give our solidarity and we ask that you not trust in the government’s demagogy. The only way to defend your rights is to struggle in the streets, while we consider you part of all the demands from the popular movement.
Photo caption: Students occupy the public National Autonomous University, Tegucigalpa. Photo by: Karen Spring

THIS 4/11 WE PROTEST FOR:

- The immediate departure of Juan Orlando Hernandez and his cabinet, for their proven acts of corruption that links them as one of the main architects of the plunder of the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS); above all, we are protesting for an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist and anti-patriarchal political system.
- The prompt installation of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH) – without the interference of the United States – a CICIH as an external and independent body that exposes to the world the decomposition of Honduran institutions.
- The installation of an original, popular and refounding National Constituent Assembly that brings together all social, popular, political and diverse sectors for a true social pact that directs us to a true and one-of-a-kind independence.
- The abolition of the new Social Security Law, a law which puts a price on a right acquired by its affiliates and that passes the consequences of the embezzlement of that institution to the workers with the same indifference that they treated the relatives of the 3,000 compatriots who died as a result of this barbaric act and injustice.
- For territorial defense and care for life, the right of indigenous and Garifuna peoples to defend their culture, water, land, their seeds, and self-determination as native peoples: for a Honduras free of mining concessions, hydroelectric dams, and the Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs)
- Stop the criminalization of social protest and the persecution and prosecution of campesino leaders, indigenous peoples, students, women, etc. that struggle in legitimate defense of their rights: in defense of the rest of the population that survives before the disastrous, repressive policies of JOH.
- Respect for the freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the right for free emission of thoughts of journalists and media, that have brought to public light all of the corruption scandals that connect to the government, not only with acts of corruption but with money laundering and narco-politics. Contrary to what the crooked media does, whose work is to hide the crimes of their masters and commanders of communication.
- We denounce the imposition of the will of Juan Orlando Hernandez in the election of the new Supreme Court of Justice, violating the independence of powers and due process, which from now on we condemn and denounce the same process as a media circus, a farce, an abuse of power that should be paid with jail time.
- For the defense of public education; secular, humanistic, and of quality, which has life and the person at its center and no the interests of capital and its forms of domination and exploitation.
For a reform of the electoral system with principles of independence, transparency, and autonomy from the government and any other power, a more participatory, collegial, and trustworthy system, which proceeds through a new Electoral Law, a new Supreme Electoral Tribunal, applying electronic voting and the strict control of the origin of campaign funds of each party.

MOVEMENTS OF RESISTANCE AND POPULAR INDIGNATION

HONDURAS, 4/11 – 2015

SIGNED BY:

Coalición de Movimientos de indignación
Plataforma de indignados
Mesas Nacionales de indignación
Indignados de Comayaguela
Indignados Unidos por Honduras
Honduras Indignados somos todos
Indignados Comayagua
Indignados Intibucá
Indignados Danlí
Indignados El Paraíso
Indignados Jesús de Otoro
Indignados Puerto Cortés
Indignados Santa Rita
Mesa amplia de estudiantes indignados
Indignados Somos Todos, sector maquila
Plataforma de Movimientos sociales y populares
Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras, OFRANEH
Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Bebida y similares, STIBYS
Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, MADJ
Concejo de Organizaciones populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH
Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores, PST
Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, FNRP
CUTH – FNRP Progreso
Coordinadora Indígena de Poder Popular de Honduras, CIPH
Instituto ecuménico de servicios a la comunidad, INEHSCO
Equipo de Reflexión, investigación y comunicación, ERIC
Red COMAL
Movimiento 5 de Julio
Vía Campesina
CIPRODEH
Observatorio ecuménico internacional
Iglesia cristiana AGAPE
Movimiento Morazán Vive
Movimiento Amplio Universitario
Partido Libertad y Refundación, LIBRE
Resistencia Colectiva Las Mercedes
Taller Pedagógico “Paulo Freire”
SITRASANAAYS
Movimiento País
Red de Jóvenes Morazanistas
Colectiva Bacteria
STYBIS Seccional #3 La Ceiba
Juventud Casa del Pueblo
Unión Revolucionaria del Pueblo, URP
ADROH
COLPEDAGOS
CASA DEL PUEBLO, S.P.S.
Escuela de formación política para Movimientos Sociales
Plataforma Sindical Olancho
Colectivos de Barrios y Colonias
Central Nacional de Trabajadoras del Campo, Progreso CNTC
UNAH-VS
(Translated by Karen Spring)

POSICIONAMIENTO POLITICO: Movimientos de Resistencia e Indignación Popular

JORNADA NACIONAL DE PROTESTA 4/11

Ante la profunda crisis política, económica y social que atraviesa el país debido a la nefasta política neoliberal, pro-imperialista y sionista que aplica Juan Orlando Hernández, la cual se agudiza con los monstruosos casos de corrupción en los que participa un gobierno que ha capturado la institucionalidad del Estado en componenda con grupos de poder vinculados al narcotráfico y al crimen organizado.

El efecto inmediato que se presenta es un panorama de hambre y muerte para la sociedad hondureña y de las capas más empobrecidas en particular. No obstante, la política económica y social de JOH está basada en la privatización, el sacrificio del pueblo, el endeudamiento y el uso del erario público para comprar la conciencia de la población más necesitada; aunado a lo antes expuesto se suma el tráfico de influencias para la búsqueda de la reelección a como dé lugar, generando un ambiente de incertidumbre y de violencia de Estado. Sin embargo, a JOH todo le va saliendo mal, el caos que ha creado en el país no solo expulsa a miles de compatriotas a una migración forzada sino que descalifica al país a nivel internacional ubicándolo no solo como el país más violento del mundo sino con las mayores brechas de desigualdad.

El efecto inmediato que se presenta es un panorama de hambre y muerte para la sociedad hondureña y de las capas más empobrecidas en particular. No obstante, la política económica y social de JOH está basada en la privatización, el sacrificio del pueblo, el endeudamiento y el uso del erario público para comprar la conciencia de la población más necesitada; aunado a lo antes expuesto se suma el tráfico de influencias para la búsqueda de la reelección a como dé lugar, generando un ambiente de incertidumbre y de violencia de Estado. Sin embargo, a JOH todo le va saliendo mal, el caos que ha creado en el país no solo expulsa a miles de compatriotas a una migración forzada sino que descalifica al país a nivel internacional ubicándolo no solo como el país más violento del mundo sino con las mayores brechas de desigualdad.

El acuerdo con el FMI solo ha venido a incrementar las filas de desempleados y las violaciones a los derechos, el aumento de los impuestos y la reducción del presupuesto para los servicios más básicos han generando una situación de presión social que estallará con más fuerza en cualquier momento. Es por eso que: Los Movimientos de Resistencia e Indignación Popular, después de varios meses de lucha permanente por librarnos del cáncer de la corrupción y del responsable de que ésta crisis haya alcanzado niveles impensables, nos hemos encontrado para hacer de éste 04 de Noviembre una jornada Nacional de Protesta de camino a un Gran Paro Nacional, acciones de protesta como la única vía para sacar del poder a este gobierno asesino, corrupto y enemigo del pueblo, transgresor de los derechos más elementales y, que tiene como único propósito prolongarse en el poder desde la política partidaria y clientelar en perjuicio de todos los trabajadores y trabajadoras.

Nuestra lucha es también por la autodeterminación y, condenamos la intervención imperialista ya sea por medio de la OEA, o del propio gobierno norteamericano experto en volver esclavos a todos nuestros pueblos y, llenar de luto a nuestras familias en nombre del supuesto combate al narcotráfico que ellos mismos promueven. Esto, de ninguna manera significa que respaldemos a ningún narcotraficante, solo denunciamos la falsedad del imperio, ya que su único interés es recolonizar para luego saquear nuestros bienes comunes de la naturaleza, usando cualquier ventaja para manipular a través de sus peones gobiernistas y verdugos históricos del pueblo.

Desde este espacio de articulación nacional no reconocemos ningún dialogo iniciado por la OEA, desde ya deslegitimamos cualquier decisión que algún movimiento de indignación ó, de la mal llamada sociedad civil pretendan, por intereses particulares ser interlocutores ante estos organismos y otras subsidiarias y mandaderas del imperio. En tal sentido, no reconocemos organizaciones instrumentalizadas, que se atribuyen una representación en nombre de un pueblo que no les ha delgado y que tampoco representan.
A todos los trabajadores del Grupo Continental les damos nuestra solidaridad y les pedimos no confiar en la demagogia del gobierno, la única forma de defender sus derechos es en la lucha en las calles, al tiempo que los consideramos parte de todas las demandas del movimiento popular.

ESTE 04/11 NOS MOVILIZAMOS POR:

La salida inmediata de Juan Orlando Hernández y su gabinete, por sus comprobados actos de corrupción que lo vinculan como uno de los principales artífices del saqueo al Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social, IHSS; nos movilizamos sobretodo, por un cambio de sistema político, anti imperialista, anti capitalista, anti racista y anti patriarcal.

La pronta instalación de la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad, CICIH -sin la injerencia de EEUU-, una CICIH como instancia externa e independiente que ponga al descubierto ante el mundo la descomposición de la institucionalidad hondureña.

La instalación de una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente originaria, popular y refundacional que auto convoque a todos los sectores sociales, populares, políticos y diversos para un verdadero pacto social que nos encamine a la verdadera y única independencia.

La derogación de la Nueva Ley Marco del Seguro Social, ley que pone precio a un derecho adquirido por las y los afiliados y que, traslada a las y los trabajadores las consecuencias del desfalco de dicha institución con la misma frialdad que tratan a los parientes de las y los tres mil compatriotas fallecidos a causa de este acto de barbarie e injusticia.

Por la defensa de los territorios y el cuidado de la vida, el derecho de los pueblos indígenas y pueblo Garífuna a defender su cultura, el agua, la tierra, sus semillas y su autodeterminación como pueblos originarios; por una Honduras liberada de concesiones mineras, hidroeléctricas y de Zonas de empleo y desarrollo económico, ZEDE.

Un alto a la criminalización de la protesta social y a la persecución y procesamiento de dirigentes campesinos, indígenas, estudiantiles, mujeres, etc. que luchan en legítima defensa de sus derechos; en defensa del resto de la población que sobrevive ante la nefasta política represiva de JOH.

Por el respeto a la libertad de expresión y libertad de prensa, el derecho a la libre emisión del pensamiento de las y los periodistas y medios que han sacado a la luz pública todos los escándalos de corrupción que vinculan al gobierno no solo con actos de corrupción sino con el lavado de activos y la narco-política. Contrario a lo que hacen los medios tarifados, cuya labor es esconder los crímenes de sus amos y caudillos de la comunicación.

Denunciamos la imposición de la voluntad de Juan Orlando Hernández en la elección de la nueva Corte Suprema de Justicia, violando la independencia de poderes y el debido proceso, por lo que desde ya condenamos y denunciamos el proceso mismo como un circo mediático, una farsa y un abuso de poder que debe ser pagado con cárcel.

Por la defensa de la educación pública; laica, humanística y de calidad, que tenga como centro la vida, la persona y no los intereses del capital y sus formas de dominación y explotación.

Por una reforma al sistema electoral con principios de independencia, transparencia y autonomía del gobierno y de cualquier otro poder, un sistema más participativo, colegiado y confiable, lo cual pasa por una nueva Ley Electoral, un nuevo Tribunal Supremo Electoral, aplicando el voto electrónico y el estricto control de la proveniencia de los fondos de campañas de cada partido.

MOVIMIENTOS DE RESISTENCIA EINDIGNACIÓN POPULAR

HONDURAS 04/11 – 2015

SUSCRIBIMOS EL PRESENTE POSICIONAMIENTO

Photo caption: Students facing the Police water tank. Photo by: Karen Spring

Friday, October 23, 2015

Randy Jorgensen, the Canadian “Porn King”, To Appear in Honduran Courts for Illegal Possession of Garifuna Lands for Tourist Projects

Randy Jorgensen will appear in Honduran courts under charges of usurpation, related to the illegal possession of Afro-indigenous, Garifuna lands in Trujillo, Honduras. Jorgensen, also known as the Canadian Porn King, is a major investor in various tourist projects in the Trujillo Bay area along Honduras’ northern Caribbean coast, including the ‘Banana Coast’ cruise ship terminal, and various gated-community projects. Charges against Jorgensen involve the illegal purchase and on-going use of land within a community land title belonging to the Garifuna communities of Cristales and Rio Negro, located in Trujillo Bay.

Photo caption: The Banana Coast cruise ship terminal, in the Rio Negro neighborhood in Trujillo. Local residents no longer have free access to the beach.

The legal hearing will take place on November 13 and the charges come after years of investigation of the illegal land sales. In June of this year, an arrest warrant for Jorgensen was issued by the Honduran Attorney General’s office. The majority of the alleged “land sales” in Rio Negro were made under threat of expropriation and repression, given the tense political environment following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras.

The Garifuna are an Afro-indigenous people that have lived for over 200 years along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, on lands now threatened by the foreign and national tourism industry. In the Trujillo region, Garifuna communities are also being evicted from their ancestral lands amid the possible construction of an Economic Development and Employment Zone (ZEDE) or Model City. Jorgensen’s investments are seen as the seed of a future ZEDE or parts of what could grow into a free trade, special development zone in the region.

Slow Tourism-Related Ethnocide

The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym) has been publicly condemning tourism-related repression and illegal land sales for years. In December 2011, Rio Negro and Cristales, accompanied by OFRANEH, “filed a lawsuit demanding absolute nullity of several fraudulent land sales made in favor of Randy Roy Jorgensen. … Jorgensen, in the midst of the Honduran political tragedy in 2009, managed to suddenly obtain environmental licenses to build in an area declared a buffer zone of the Capiro and Calentura National Park.” Regarding the recent charges, OFRANEH released a statement that can be found here.

Photo caption: The ruins of a house in Rio Negro, with one of the last houses standing in the backdrop at the location where the Banana Coast cruise ship terminal is now located. Picture taken in 2011.

The piece of land that Jorgensen is illegally occupying consists of over 76 manzanas [approximately 132 acres] within the Rio Negro land title dating back to 1901. Upon obtaining the land, Jorgensen has since built the ‘Banana Coast’ cruise ship terminal that received over 50 international cruise ships last season. The Garifuna community of Rio Negro has largely been ‘disappeared’ by the project and the few houses remaining are regularly affected by severe flooding caused by the design and construction of the cruise ship terminal adjacent to their houses. Residents of Rio Negro and surrounding Garifuna communities have also lost access to the beach, a lifeline for the Garifuna that rely on fishing for local consumption.

Tourism, Dispossession and Repression

In her excellent article about Canadian tourism interests in Trujillo, journalist Dawn Paley reports that Jorgensen was nicknamed the ‘Canadian Porn King’ in a 1993 publication of MacLean’s magazine in Canada. The nickname is a play on how Jorgensen earned his fortune by distributing and selling pornographic films in ‘Adults Only Video’ (AOV) stores across Canada and online. Upon moving to Honduras in 2007, the Porn King has since become the major promoter and investor of a Cancun-style tourism economy in Trujillo Bay. Besides Banana Coast, Jorgensen owns another company, Life Vision Developments that is selling small lots of land to North Americans through various real estate firms based in Canada, and a money-making scheme known as Fast Track Group based in Alberta, Canada. These lots – many of which were illegally purchased by Life Vision Developments and are inside Garifuna land titles – are located within gated-communities Campa Vista, Coroz Alta, Alta Vista, and New Palm Beach.

Photo caption: The entrance of NJOI Trujillo.

Other North American projects have since begun construction and land sales in the last few years, following in Jorgensen’s footsteps. NJOI Trujillo and NJOI Santa Fe, owned and managed by Canadians Gino and Cristina Santarossa, and Paul and Lucio Todos, are real estate, resort-style projects for sale. Canadian journalist Sandra Cuffe writes about NJOI’s projects built illegally inside land owned communally by the Garifuna community of Guadalupe.

It is likely that many, if not all of these tourism-related investments are in serious risk, given that most, if not all recent tourism investment projects, going back to before the 2009 military coup, and particularly since the coup, are being constructed on Garifuna lands and territories that have been illegally acquired, in one fashion or another. Garifuna community and human rights defenders believe, and hope, that the usurpation charges against Randy Jorgensen are only the first of many legal challenges to come.

Jorgensen’s Legal Problems, Past and Present

The current charges against the Porn King are not Jorgensen’s first run-in with the Honduran legal system. In 2001, Jorgensen and his father, Roy Jorgensen, fought charges of proxenetismo de menores or prostitution of minors, all the way to the Honduran Supreme Court. There are concerns of corruption related to how the charges were ultimately dropped. Then in 2011, Jorgensen reported to the Honduran press that Honduran banks had closed his accounts for “unknown reasons”. Locals in Trujillo Bay also report that Jorgensen has strong ties to the Lobo family that have been accused of drug trafficking. Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, was arrested in May of this year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on drug trafficking charges in connection to the drug cartel operating in the Trujillo area, known as “Los Cachiros.” Lobo was extradited to stand trial in the U.S.

The most recent usurpation charges against Randy Jorgensen come as a surprise given the high levels of corruption and impunity in the Honduran judicial system. Although the recent charges seem hopeful, many are skeptical that the charges will proceed, if at all, in Honduran courts.

Photo caption: Randy Jorgensen (left) with Ramon Lobo (center) and former President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo (right). Photo from Life Vision Development.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What's going on with the Rosenthals?

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) indicted three members of the Rosenthal family - Jaime Rolando Rosenthal, Yankel Antonio Rosenthal, Yani Bejamin Rosenthal - for money laundering related to illicit activities and international drug trafficking. Jaime Rosenthal and family have since published two communiques denying the charges and declaring their innocence. The news of the Rosenthal bust hit the press yesterday when the DEA prevented Yankel Rosenthal from boarding a flight from Miami destined for Tegucigalpa. The sanctions against the Rosenthals are a very surprising move by the U.S. as the Rosenthal family is one of the wealthiest and most prominent of the Honduran elite with strong ties to the Liberal Party, one of the two traditional political parties that have controlled and dominated the Honduran Congress for decades.


Jaime Rolando Rosenthal is a former Vice President of Honduras, and a major, if not THE major player, in the Liberal Party of Honduras. He owns Banco Continental, a large, national bank in Honduras, and the center-right newspaper, El Tiempo, which he founded in 1970 after a conflict as a founding investor in the national newspaper La Prensa, owned by Jorge Larach. The extent of the Rosenthals' investments managed under their company, Continental Group (Grupo Continental) are vast and include businesses in the coffee, banana, cacao, sugar industry, live stock, various residential and real estate companies, amongst many others. The Rosenthal family is a media magnate owning the El Tiempo newspaper, Canal 11 (together with Gilberto Goldstein), and Cable Color. According to Honduran journalist Manuel Torres Calderon, "through his Jaimista Movement, Rosenthal has been considered - in the liberal governments - as an "owner" of a quota of power in the National Congress, Supreme Court of Justice, ministries and key dependents of public administration, among them the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL)."

His son, Yani Rosenthal, also sanctioned by the U.S. OFAC for "money laundering and drug trafficking activities" is a former Presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, and heavily involved in his family's businesses. His cousin, Yankel Rosenthal stopped in Miami by the DEA, is married to the daughter of another very prominent and wealthy business man, Gilberto Goldstein. Yankel is President of the Rosenthal's soccer club, Club Marathon, based in San Pedro Sula. When he appeared in court yesterday with his wrists handcuffed to a chain at his waist, Hondura's Channel 6 reported that he "could not stop his tears when seeing his daughter in the Miami court."

An interesting commentary about Yankel breaking down in court, is circulating around social media was made by former public prosecutor and lawyer representing the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ by its Spanish acronym), Victor Fernandez:

"I have seen so many poor people crying when their family member is sent to prison (or subject to police or miitary force), but the poor have always been closer to jail and all of its respective abuses. I imagine that this family (Rosenthal), with so much power and money in this country, will feel that the world is falling in on them, and now, will live what many Honduras live day to day. But the biggest impact that this news should generate, is the confirmation (because we all knew it) that Honduras, for years, has been governed by gangs."

The sanctioning of the three Rosenthals raises tons of questions and lots of speculation. I've outlined a few theories that have been circulating in the social media:

1. Banco Continental may have been involved in the narco activities and money laundering schemes of the Los Cachiros drug cartel. The Rivera Maradiaga brothers handed themselves over the U.S. authorities in the Bahamas and its possible that as part of the negotiations of their arrest, that they would hand over information that incriminated individuals in the Honduran government and prominent businesses, including Honduran banks involved in laundering. Its possible that Banco Continental was connected somehow to Los Cachiros.

Other points to consider: Various Honduran banks are thought to be involved in narco and money laundering activities, although none other than Banco Continental are being touched by U.S. authorities. A recent complaint was filed in Panama against Camilo Atala, owner of the largest Honduran bank, Banco FICOHSA for alleged money laundering and conspiracy to commit a crime. Banco FICOHSA was also flagged and now under investigation by the International Financial Corporation, the private-arm of the World Bank, for its involvement in loaning money to Dinant Corporation linked to hundreds of campesino killings and human rights abuses in the Aguan Valley.

From what has been reported, the complain against FICOHSA in Panama seems not to have anything to do with the U.S. government or respective U.S. investigations. Banco FICOHSA recently bought out City Bank Honduras, and in general it is suspected that under the new loan signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Honduran banking system is becoming increasingly integrated into the global market, including strong, parent ties to big U.S. banks. As the 2013 HSBC scandal has taught us, U.S. banks themselves aren't innocent in money laundering activities related to Latin American drug cartels either.

2. The Rosenthal bust is simply a blow against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez's political enemies and critics. Since Jaime and Yani Rosenthal were both prominent politicians and actors in the Liberal Party of Honduras, some say that the Rosenthal family is being targeted because of its open criticisms of the Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) government and the National Party via their newspaper, El Tiempo. With major Liberal Party actors out of the picture, the U.S. move will further strengthen the JOH government as decommissioned property or assets will be in the hands of the party that controls the Honduran state, the National Party.

Other points to consider: Although Jaime and Yani Rosenthal are both big time Liberal Party politicians and supporters, Yankel had just ended his relationship with the Liberals and joined the National Party ranks. In 2013, Yankel publicly threw his support behind JOH's Presidential candidacy and in February 2014 until June 2015 was the Ministry of Investment Promotion. A brief video interview circulating on social media, shows Yankel stating that "we" [and its unclear who "we" is] support him [JOH] in his conviction, economically, and we are going to support him with a vote as well." So although Jaime Rosenthal is the definitely the big name in the family and the Liberal Party, at least one of the three Rosenthals accused by the U.S. is sympathetic to JOH.

Photo caption: Yankel Rosenthal (left) with Ana Garcia Hernandez and current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Something else to consider when examining the argument that going after the Rosenthals is in short, strenghening JOH's regime, is that the National Party has suffered some drug busts as well. For example, the Valle Valle family, thats members have been captured and extradited to the U.S. as well, were major financiers of JOH's campaign, and Los Cachiros have strong links to the National Party. Fabio Lobo, the son of former National Party President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was allegedly captured in Haiti by the DEA on charges of drug trafficking linked to Los Cachiros. Some people in Honduras believe that Lobo was actually arrested in Honduras and then taken to Haiti and 'officially' captured in order to lower the political impact of the charges.

In short, there is lots of speculation about the recent arrests and accusations against the Rosenthals. Time will tell how it will play out. Regarding the U.S. government's role in the last few years of money laundering scandals and arrests related to drug trafficking, are a few points that are clear to me:

** The U.S. are cherry-picking criminals - going after some while not touching others that are just as bad if not worse than the Rosenthals.

** Who gets extradited, how, and where they are captured or handed over to the U.S. is clearly being negotiated between the U.S. government and some institution(s) or group(s) in Honduras behind closed doors. The U.S. seems to be calling the shots and dragging Honduran investigative bodies and institutions along for the ride.

** The U.S. continues its obsession over cracking down on (some) drug trafficking and illicit activities in the name of the War on Drugs, that is inherent to the neoliberal political and economic system in Honduras. The drug war is used as a justification to militarize and terrorize Honduran society while homicide rates and insecurity remain alarmingly high. If you ask Hondurans from the social movement if they are surprised about the U.S. naming the Rosenthals as criminals, they will likely tell you that everyone knows the Honduran elite are involved in illicit activities of some sort, but that they are surprised that the U.S. is taking out one of its historically important allies - a prominent and wealthy Honduran family.

** The long-term support by the U.S. for the Honduran oligarchy has assisted in generating and expanding the power and influence of a handful of Honduran political and economic elite. The U.S. support for the June 2009 military coup being the most recent example. The coup led to skyrocketing homicide rates and insecurity, and allowed for drug traffickers and criminals to operate in almost a complete state of impunity. It is this state of impunity that has generated more drug trafficking, higher levels of insecurity, and mass corruption including the multi-million dollar Social Security scandal (IHSS) that has had a tremendous impact on Honduran society as well.

Photo caption: JOH "I have a little gift for you, a trip to Miami with you whole family, everything paid," Ricardo Alvarez [JOH's alleged political rival within the National Party] "No thanks, its better to give it to Callejas [former Honduran President accused of multiple acts of corruption], I'm busy reading 'Never Enter Miami' [a book written by Honduran writer Roberto Quesada]."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Great Posts This Week on Honduras Resiste

Vicki Cervantes, from La Voz de los de Abajo in Chicago and also the U.S.-based Coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network is in Honduras and blogging daily about her travels around the country.

La Voz has worked for over a decade in Honduras supporting campesino and human rights struggles around the country. Read their posts including yesterday's piece about the violent eviction in Villanueva on September 23 and the killing of a young 16-year old boy by the police and military.

http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com/

Friday, September 25, 2015

Indignados march tonight in Tegucigalpa



Photo caption: "UNAH [national public university], I want (love) you public, autonomous and democratic" 

Photo caption: "get out JOH [president Juan Orlando hernandez], if the corrupt national party continues stealing, I will continue yelling 'what is the plan?', get rid of that son of a bitch. Get out JOH"


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Marginalized Urban Community Meets with Congressman James McGovern


The Flor del Campo Collective discussing issues of migration and insecurity in their neighbourhood with Congressman James McGovern (MA) and two representatives from WOLA. September 20, 2015

Friday, September 4, 2015

Employees of U.S.-Owned Sweatshop Companies Protest Corruption and Privatization of Social Security Institute

Photo caption: Protest outside of ZIP Bufalo by sweatshop workers, September 2, 2015. Photo by Radio Progreso

In the early morning on Wednesday, maquila workers set up a roadblock in front of Import Processing Zone (ZIP) Bufalo in the city of Villanueva, just outside of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second largest city and industrial center. Over 2000 sweatshop workers maintained the blockade for approximately three hours before the Honduran police and Military Police moved in to violently evict them.

ZIP Bufalo is one of many free trade havens that flourished under CAFTA and the location of many foreign-owned and operated sweatshops. It houses factories owned or leased by U.S. companies Fruit of the Loom (Confecciones Dos Caminos), Jockey International, and Petralex (automobile parts), amongst others.

Radio Progreso reports that state forces tear-gassed, beat up and repressed protesters for over four hours. The sweatshop employees were demanding the annulment of the new Social Protection Law and an end to government corruption. The approval and implementation of the law that the protesters are rejecting, was a central demand of the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustments under a loan signed with Honduras in December 2014.

The new law comes into effect today (September 4) and replaces the Social Security law that manages healthcare and pension funds for public and private sector employees under the Social Security Institute (IHSS). The law will have tremendous impacts on maquila workers’ health and safety as it essentially privatizes the public institute accessed by over 600,000 public and private sector employees.

Photo caption: Protest outside of ZIP Bufalo, September 2, 2015. Photo by Radio Progreso

For many sweatshop workers, the IHSS acted as a mediator of health and safety concerns of employees (the majority of which are women in the garment industry) and large Canadian and U.S. owned companies with horrific track records of abiding by health and labor standards. Workers paid monthly contributions to the IHSS that allowed them access to medical specialists inside the public institute, particularly important in an industry where workers are at high risk for industrial accidents and repetitive strain injuries.

The new law will likely force sweatshop workers to become more dependent on employer-run and administered healthcare services inside factories that are often understaffed, bias, inefficient, and lacking in specialists, or make co-payments and seek medical attention from private healthcare providers. Although the IHSS services were not always perfect or efficient, it was a much better option for sweatshop workers to receive the best, most economically viable treatment for their healthcare needs. The IHSS was almost forced to bankruptcy when government officials linked to the current party in power, the National Party, stole over $300 million from the Institute between 2012 and 2015.

The blockade in Villanueva was one of many blockades organized around the country as part of the indignados [indignant] movement against corruption, the looting of the IHSS, and demanding the installation of an International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH). The indignados movement began taking to the streets in early May when evidence was published about the gradual and well-planned scheme to steal millions of dollars from the IHSS. On Tuesday, maquila workers from ZIP El Porvenir in El Progreso also occupied the road outside the sweatshop complex where other foreign-owned companies are located and were violently evicted by Honduran police and military as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Interview with TeleSUR English about Honduran 'Indignados' Movement

[MY NOTE: I didn't choose the title and as I outline in the interview, there are sectors of the movement that do have a very solid structural analysis]. This content was originally published on TeleSUR English's website

By: Heather Gies

Photo caption: Torchlight march on Friday, August 21st involving mostly student groups and members of the FNRP face the Honduran police as they guard the house of the Vice President of Congress, Lena Gutierrez who faces criminal charges for frauding the IHSS.

teleSUR: Some, including Ariel Varela – described as a movement leader in the Honduran press – are calling what’s going on in Honduras and Guatemala a “Central American spring.” Do you think the current movements constitute a kind of “spring” in the region?

I can only really speak about the context and protests in Honduras, and not what is occurring in Guatemala. The dominant discourse of the indignados movement in Honduras attempts to give the impression that some sort of Central American "spring" is occurring in Honduras, citing that Hondurans have woken up, want change, and are demanding the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernandez. It’s unclear why the leaders of the indignados movement would call this a "spring" since Hondurans and specifically, Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, campesinos, women, and the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) have been on the streets and in their own territories demanding a transformation and refounding of Honduras through a Constitutent National Assembly since the 2009 military coup. This demand remains in some spaces but has been drowned out by the dominant and not-so-structural analysis of the indignados movement.

Since the post-coup marches in the few years after the coup were not deemed legitimate by the U.S. and the Honduran elites, it is suspicious that the right-wing media, the oligarchs, and the U.S. are now calling the torchlight marches and actions of the indignados movement legitimate, peaceful and democratic expressions of outrage via these weekly protests.

Many in Honduras have been resisting injustice for years amid what's been seen as a crisis of democracy in the wake of the coup. Why has has discontent boiled over at this moment, bringing thousands to the street in recent weeks, even though underlying issues of impunity have been longstanding?

This is the million dollar question. Why now?

What are the central demands of the current movement and the tactics for achieving them? Do you see these sufficient demands and effective tactics? If the demands currently being made by the “indignados” movement are met, what would be the outcome for Honduran politics and people?

The central demands of the movement are the installation of an International Commission against Impunity (CICIH), the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and investigations into the involvement of the Assistant Attorney General and Attorney General in the looting of the Social Security Institute (IHSS). Although in the last few weeks, the latter two demands have not been as present in the discourse of the indignados movement as it has previously.

I do think that small victories against impunity can be made through the installation of a International Commission against Impunity, but such a Commission is not a solution to a corrupt system that is rotten from top to bottom. Corruption is inherent to neoliberalism and impunity facilitates further perpetuation of both. Corruption and impunity are necessary in seeing that the interests and continued domination by the Honduran elite, transnational companies, the international financial institutions, and the U.S. and Canadian governments continue unabated. Unfortunately, the dominant discourse of this movement is not discussing or being critical of the neoliberal model and instead through its demands implies that corruption and impunity can be “dealt with” or resolved by a CICIH. The challenge of some sectors of the indignados movement is how to deepen the analysis to incorporate a more structural understanding of corruption and impunity, and incorporate it into their movement's demands.

Although the leaders of the indignados movement have said they won't participate in a dialogue facilitated by representatives of the Organization of American States, they did attend some of the meetings when the OAS representative was in the country last week. Months after the 2009 coup, the social movement/Resistencia/FNRP learned an important lesson about dialogue and negotiations facilitated by the OAS. They learned that the OAS served to whitewash the crimes of the Honduran government or the golpistas while facilitating the normalization of relations between Honduras and the “international community” that had rhetorically (not necessarily practically such as in the case of the United States) cut off relations with Honduras because of the coup. I have little faith or trust in the OAS's and for that matter, the U.S.'s intentions in this dialogue process.

Who constitutes this current movement and its leadership, and how it organized itself? Does the diverse alliance of left, mainstream, and even right-wing elements undermine the movement’s potential to achieve radical reforms?

The indignados movement does not have a structural analysis that examines corruption and impunity in the context of neoliberalism, the power of the Honduran elite, and the role of the U.S. and allies in Honduras. For that reason, their demands are not "radical" enough to get to the root of the corruption problem. Because of this, they may achieve small victories, but nothing close to what the social movement after the 2009 coup were fighting for and demanding.

For me, it’s crucial to analyze and contrast the current indignados movement with the post-coup social movement/Resistencia/FNRP. This current movement does not even come close to the structural, transformative demands of the post-coup movement. This may be because the social movement is at a different moment now, and/or because the "traditional" social movement (ie. post-coup movement) have been joined by sectors of the political opposition such as the right-wing and golpista Liberal Party, the anti-corruption (PAC) party, as well as the LIBRE party in the streets. Together, they seemed to have identified a clear enemy: the Juan Orlando Hernandez government.

Unfortunately, the dominant discourse of the indignados movement is being carefully controlled by sectors that are not traditional nor "radical" elements of the social movement and in fact, some have been clearly identified as being aligned with the U.S. Embassy. These elements include the State Department-funded NGOs Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) and Alliance for Peace and Justice. "Traditional" social movement groups (for a lack of a better description) view these sectors of the indignados movement with deep suspicion and mistrust, and for a good reason.

You have said that the coup consolidated political and economic power in Honduras to bring on a wave of privatization of public services, land, and resources. How is this linked to the corruption scandals recently brought to light that sparked the movement in the streets?

The corruption scandals are 100 percent linked to the consolidation of political and economic power in Honduras under neoliberalism. Take a look at what happened with the Social Security Institute (IHSS). First, it was looted by the National Party and their cronies, then while investigations of the corruption were actively ignored, it was privatized under the structural adjustments of the International Monetary Fund. Today, amidst the scandals and the protests, the IHSS and its services are being auctioned off to private companies. The same process occurred with the teachers’ pension funds in the institution IMPREMA shortly after the coup.

As I said previously, corruption is inherent to neoliberalism and necessary for the further consolidation of political and economic power through privatization processes in Honduras. The dominant discourse of the movement discusses corruption as a problem but not these privatization processes that have been under way for years.

How much presence or visibility do radical resistance activists and their demands have in the movement? Does the movement at large share your analysis and make the connections between the political economic outcomes of the coup and government corruption?

I think it is one of the biggest challenges for the "radical" resistance activists. They are attempting to push the indignados movement to a deeper analysis. The hunger strike that ended on July 31 was an attempt to do this. The strong and ongoing student involvement in the indignados movement is another attempt to do this, although the students are facing what is being portrayed by the media as isolated repression and criminalization which I believe is likely related to their more radical involvement in the indignados movement.

Unfortunately, the dominant discourse of the indignados in the mainstream media excludes the analysis of some sectors of the same movement to remove the more structural critiques of corruption. This obviously serves the interests of the powers that be.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Systematic Murder and Corruption in the Honduran Social Security Institute

On May 8, 2015, Honduran journalist David Romero of TV Globo published evidence of a huge corruption scandal in Honduras. Confirming what many already speculated, Romero displayed copies of bank checks that had been written in 2012 to the National Party of Honduras, the political party currently in power. The checks had been signed by shell companies created to launder over $300 million dollars from the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS) via fraudulent contracts and overvalued services. The blatant robbery of millions of dollars from the IHSS had left the national healthcare service in shambles with fewer diagnostic abilities, equipment, and little or no medication.

Photo caption: Lighting 3,000 candles in memory of Doña Teresa and those that died because of the corruption in the IHSS. Tegucigalpa. Photo by: Unknown

The IHSS was privatized in May 2015 as a result of its intentionally depleted condition and services in its hospitals and clinics around the country, and under the strong recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Its suspected that the stolen money was used by the National Party to win the 2013 elections that both the U.S. government, Organization of American States, and the European Union had deemed fair, clean, and democratic.

When Romero broke the story about the corruption scandal in May 2015, many sectors of Honduran society and the political opposition came together to form the indignados [outraged peoples] movement. Carrying torches in the streets during weekly marches, the indignados movement show their outrage for the high levels of corruption in the government, and are demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and the formation of an International Commission against Impunity (CICIH).

Photo caption: In the torchlight march in Tegucigalpa. Sign reads, "New IHSS law made with faith of a rat." Photo by Luis Mendez

It is estimated (albeit by a U.S. State Department-funded organization), Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) that approximately 3,000 Hondurans died in the IHSS as a result of the corruption. This number has not been verified or investigated by a government institution but the Honduran media have consistently reported the alarming conditions of the IHSS, once one of the best series of hospitals in the country. Family members of people that have passed away in the IHSS have given testimony to national and international media outlets describing the sickening way in which their family members were not attended to, lied to, or sent home to die.

MARCH 9th, 2015

We got the news of her death around eight o’clock in the evening as Edwin, her son, and I were reading the newspaper and relaxing. When Edwin answered the phone, he wasn’t told what was happening, just that he needed to get to the IHSS hospital.

Earlier that same afternoon, we stood beside Doña Teresa’s bedside in the IHSS hospital in Tegucigalpa. Doña Teresa’s spirits were up, and she seemed much livelier than previous days. We took turns feeding her soup broth and juice, rotating every 5 to 10 minutes since we were only given 30 minutes, twice a day, one person at a time to see her. The doctors and nurses told us she was stable – her blood pressure and heartbeat were back to normal. She had not been diagnosed with anything. Her family had brought her to the hospital because she had been fainting and refusing food.

The doctors told us that her condition had improved and that she would stay in the observation room only until a bed was available on the fifth floor where she could fully recuperate before being sent home. The nurses had tied her down to her bed – both wrists and ankles – telling us that she attempted throughout the day and night to leave the hospital. It hurt a lot seeing the red pieces of cloth around her arms and legs, but trusting foolishly in the advice of the doctors, we allowed it, not realizing until later, that maybe she had been trying to escape for her own reasons.

The hardest part about Doña Teresa’s death was how the doctors lied and misled us. Thinking back to the week that she was in the hospital is tormenting and painful. A list of maybes run through my head, followed by a deep, unsettling feeling of regret. Maybe we should have drilled the doctors more with questions. Maybe we should have taken her somewhere else. Or even physically picking her up off of the bed and taking her home to protect her to whatever they did or didn’t do for her in the hospital. Doña Teresa was 69 years of age with no diagnosed condition.

Photo caption: Doña Teresa

After unexpectedly receiving the call from the hospital that night, we went directly to the hospital. The doors of the emergency trauma unit were open when we arrived. Edwin’s sister was already there, standing at the nurses’ station in the middle of the unit, slouched over, head down, screaming and sobbing loudly. “I just saw her …. my God … I cannot believe it.”

Edwin, who I went to the hospital with, rushed over to his sister, drawing the conclusion about what had happened to his mother. He stood beside her, head down, holding his sister who was crying and screaming between breaths. For a few minutes, he froze and stared at the wall until anger and outrage hit him.

“Nobody says anything – they steal millions of lempiras from us .. from the hospitals, and no one says anything”, Edwin yelled out loud, in the middle of the emergency and observation rooms in the hospital. I didn’t know what to say. I looked around the large area where the nursing station was located, and into parts of the attached rooms where people were on hospital beds and stretchers. It felt wrong being there, and worse as everyone looked up to stare at Edwin yelling and his sister wailing. He was right, but no one had anything to say. The whole scene was awful, unfair, painful, and unforgettable.

After about 5 minutes, the security guard directed us out to the front of the hospital. We stood outside for a while, making phone calls, crying, and figuring out what to do. Edwin and I left together to buy a coffin and prepare for the funeral. His nephews waited at the hospital and gathered their grandmother’s belongings from the staff.

When we returned to the hospital with the casket, we were taken to the morgue. Doña Teresa’s body had been wrapped in a white sheet and her body lay on a metal table inside one of the small rooms along a long corridor. The security guard accompanied us.Edwin went first into the room, his nephews and I followed. The men from the funeral parlor rolled the casket on the right side of the metal table. With one at each end, they began lifting her body using the ends of the sheet, into the casket when the security guard stopped them.

“You cannot take the sheet” he said. “What?” responded Edwin, “how are we supposed to lift her?” And then spit out “How is it possible that the cachurecos [National Party] can rob millions of dollars from this hospital but we cannot even take one sheet to wrap my mother’s body in?”

“I’m sorry,” said the guard, “it’s the rules. We aren’t permitted to let people take the sheets.” Pissed off at his response and upset, Edwin, his nephews and I used the sheet to cover his mother’s body while we lifted it into the coffin in the presence of the security guard, and the two guys from the funeral parlor. We gently unwrapped the sheet from her body and left it on the metal table. The coffin was then wheeled out to the car.

The wake began two hours later and lasted two nights and one full day straight, as per Honduran customs, until we took Doña Teresa to be buried next to her youngest son that had been killed the previous year. It was an incredibly sad few days reflecting on her life and the way that she had died in the IHSS hospital. Her treatment and death inside the IHSS was one of thousands of mostly poor and middle class, affected by the intentional and malicious ransacking of the social security system.

Less than two months later, the huge corruption scandal hit the media but Hondurans like Edwin were already indignado or outraged. They had experienced the impact of the scandal first hand either by losing a family member or being turned away and told that there were no medications in the hospital’s pharmacies. Two months after Doña Teresa died, the Honduran National Congress approved the Social Protection Law that privatized the entire IHSS system. Working class women like Doña Teresa in the future will likely have to make co-payments to receive medical attention of lesser quality than what existed before the IHSS was deliberately depleted.

For me, its hard to blame the hospital staff and the doctors in the IHSS for her death, even though I know that we were lied to and misled. Other families have given public testimonies outlining similar experiences, lies, and false information they received in the IHSS about the health status of their loved ones. For me, so much of what happened to Doña Teresa was a consequence of deep inequity, corruption, and impunity entrenched by powerful national and international interests. Standing by her bedside, I also came face to face with a settled and firm conviction and understanding of the deep unsustainable nature of what is happening in Honduras, and in a more general sense the global economic system. For some reason that feeling although painful in the moment, gives me hope for the future.

Photo by Luis Mendez

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Development for Who?": ZEDEs & Community Struggles

I'm sitting close to the pier in the small community of Amapala on Tigre Island in Honduras, an island surrounded by the Golf of Fonseca. The island is located in southern Honduras and I can see Nicaragua and El Salvador from the pier. The island may be a potential site for the first ZEDE (Zones for Economic Development and Employment) in the country.


The ten communities on the peninsula of Zacate Grande are facing imminent eviction as rumours in the Honduran media report that the South Korean government has delivered a feasibility study for the ZEDE. Zacate Grande is attached to mainland Honduras and may become the location of a bridge that attaches the rest of the country to Tigre Island. Large regional and national land owners including the Malespin and Facusse familIes are pushing strongly to remove the communities of Zacate Grande from their territory despite living on the land for decades, knowing that land prices will skyrocket once the government finds international investors to finance the ZEDE project.

Caption: On the wall of a house in the community of Playa Blanca in Zacate Grande. Painting reads "development for who?" The owner of the house has been called to appear before a judge next Tuesday as a large land owner claims ownership to the land where his family's house and farm land are located. He has a fabulous view of the beach and the Golf of Fonseca from his modest front porch. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vacation = not much blogging

I'm on vacation for another week or so which explains the neglect of my blog recently. I'll start posting more next week when I get back into the groove.

Thanks for visiting

KGNU Interview: Part II

Part II of my interview with KGNU (and other great interviews), see the KGNU website

Photo caption: A film screening at the location of the hunger strike in Tegucigalpa of "Resistencia: the Struggle for the Aguan Valley" by Jesse Freeston. July 14, 2015.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Six Years Post Coup: A Human Rights Activist Reflects on a Country in Crisis

Reposting an interview I did while at the U.S. Social Forum in San Jose, California in late-June 2015.

A glance at corporate-driven media in Honduras would reveal a climate of violence that is attributed to gang activity or drugs. This intentional practice is profitable.

Karen Spring explains while giving her observations and analysis to KGNU about the violence the day before the six-year anniversary of the June 28, 2009 military coup. She arrived in Honduras shortly after the very coup that hurled the country into months of protests against an oligarch takeover of the country and the subsequent repression against the movement that sought a return to democracy.

She said that media coverage of government violence and death squads against communities that oppose government policy that displaces them, or denies basic human rights is virtually nonexistent or heavily suppressed or repressed. If coverage does make its way to the pages, those who stand to lose their ancestral land, their clean water, their opportunity to feed their families are portrayed as responsible for the violence. The few who stand to gain from land grabs, from the extraction of natural resources, from the elimination of those who stand in the way of profit have control of the majority of the media.

For full article and interview, see KGNU website

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Scandal in the Social Security Institute in Honduras: Key Witness Shot This Afternoon in San Pedro Sula

Today in San Pedro Sula, Juan Charles Bográn Velasquez, a key witness in the IHSS scandal was shot 14 times while driving in his vehicle with his body guard, Julio César España Chinchilla. It is suspected that Bográn Velasquez will not survive given the extent of his injuries.

David Romero of Globo TV announced this information over his radio and TV program this afternoon. The man that was shot was a witness in the IHSS corruption scandal that involved the looting of $350 million dollars from the Social Security Institute (IHSS) in 2012 and 2013 during the Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo administration. The IHSS provides medical care and pensions to approximately 600,000 public and private sector workers and their families around the country.

Photo caption: Banner reads, "Punishment for the corrupt individuals that looted the IHSS funds to finance the political campaign of the National Party." Source: El Heraldo

The IHSS scandal is not new in Honduras but has received a lot of national and international attention over the last few days because of new evidence that has emerged that allegedly proves that the money stolen from the IHSS was transferred to the National Party. The money was then suspected to have been used to finance the National Party's campaign in the 2013 Elections. The evidence that has recently emerged via David Romero from Globo TV includes a series of cheques - some actually written to the National Party of Honduras - and others in the name of ghost companies that were suspected to have been created to launder the money. The evidence also includes the names of individuals involved with the ghost companies, many of which are closely tied to the National Party. Bográn Velasquez - the man just shot today - was involved himself in one of the ghost companies and was expected to testify (if the case ever moved forward in the Ministerio Publico) about the link between the stolen money, the high level government officials including the President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez that are allegedly involved in the scandal, and the role of the ghost companies.

Last week, a new Social Protection Law was approved in the Honduran National Congress that dramatically transforms the IHSS and essentially privatizes the institution. The reforms of the IHSS under the new law were one of the Structural Adjustments demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that approved a loan to the Honduran government in December 2014. Interesting, Mauricio Oliva of the National Party, the current President of the National Congress oversaw the approval of the new IHSS law last week, and was also part of the Health Commission in the Honduran Congress that oversaw the approval of the millions of dollars of contracts to the ghost companies during the last administration.

The new IHSS law passed last week (but that has not been published), reduces the monthly contributions the Honduran state is required to make to the IHSS; dramatically transforms the way that pension funds are managed; and significantly reduces medical and pension benefits for public and private workers. Under the new law, the IHSS will simply act as an administrating body that will subcontract health care services to private clinics and hospitals.

Since the $350 million dollars were stolen from the IHSS, the services in the IHSS hospitals have deteriorated significantly. Once known as the best hospitals in the country, patients and their family members are now required to purchase medications and all medical supplies from private pharmacies and medical supply companies before receiving adequate medical attention in the IHSS. The implications of the $350 million stolen from the IHSS have meant a major deterioration of healthcare services, but also contributed to the public discouragement in the IHSS and most recently, been used as a justification to privatize it's services.