Saturday, March 19, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Berta Cáceres

Berta was assassinated between 11 pm and 12 am on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 when at least two individuals broke into the back door of her house in the town of La Esperanza, in western Honduras. They shot her at least twice. She died a few moments later. A long-time compañero and fellow activist of Berta's, Gustavo Castro from Mexico was the sole witness to her murder.

Berta lives in us and among us. Very sad news for Honduras. Berta will be deeply missed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Delegation to Honduras in January 2016: Photographs and Stories from Duck Head Photography

In January 2016, I led and coordinated an educational delegation to Honduras organized by the Marin County Task Force on the America (MITF) and Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity. We focused on three important topics (that are linked): the drug war, land grabs, and the neoliberal global tourist industry.

One delegate, Rodney Mahaffey of Duck Head Photography is an amazing photographer. With his own photos, Rod has been putting together some amazing photo essays and short descriptions of various encounters during the delegation. Below are some of my favorite. More to come later.


“In the Aguán region, a fertile alluvial valley just south of the northern coast, large landowners have taken advantage of the current political climate to intensify attacks on peasant movements and expand plantations of African oil palm, a high value export crop with a growing global market for edible oil, processed foods, chemical and biodiesel fuels. Between September 2009 and August 2012, 53 recorded murders of Aguán peasants are attributed to guards and mercenaries hired by large oil palm growers, often acting in concert with state and military forces…In addition, the US military presence and military aid—heightened in recent years in the name of combating drug trafficking—have bolstered the Honduran security forces’ capacity for repression. The revival of 1980s-style counter-insurgency tactics against a non-violent resistance movement has led to mounting human rights atrocities felt most acutely in the countryside. This push also comes up against a movement of increasingly organized peasant communities who, after more than a century of displacement by capitalist agriculture, have nowhere left to go.
-Tanya M. Kerssen, “Grabbing Power: the New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras”

In the campesino community of La Lempira, our delegation met with representatives from the United Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), the Authentic Peasant Revindicative Movement of Aguán (MARCA), the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) and the Agrarian Platform of the Aguán.

Although the emphasis changed from speaker to speaker, the story was always the same:
• We are now living under a new form of dictatorship. The president is selling Honduras, creating a new form of slavery. We are worried we will be left without a country. Militarization is a threat to all Hondurans.
• We are living in crisis.
• The 2010 agreement promised us 11,000 hectares of land. Now there are 3000 families living on 4000 hectares.
• We are suffocating.
• To receive support we had to agree to plant African palm. The price of palm has fallen 54.3% since 2014. Families and members are living on less than $1 a day.
• Since the business plan there have been over 120 murders. That illegal process sold our own land back to us from people who aren’t even Honduran. Now the government wants to remove us from our land.
• We have demanded a revision of the 2010 agreement that promised education and health and housing…none of that has happened. A commission was formed, led by the vice-president of Congress. Every meeting has been cancelled and re-scheduled.
• We realized that they are bullshitting us (as we say in Honduras). We need help to apply pressure to negotiate a new plan.
• The is a long history of campesino struggle. So many comrades have been killed in this process. All we are asking as MARCA and MCA is to fulfill the promises of the agreement.
• They take advantage of hunger and poverty to overprice the land.
• North America…the Pentagon...Intelligence…the World Bank have reduced budgets and economic support to create a crisis. Honduras, after the conflicts in Central America, became a permanent military base. Now the whole country is militarized.
• They assassinate leaders and infiltrate the movements. Only 18 cooperatives have survived. (Note: there were 40 campesino cooperatives at the time of the coup in 2009.)

The meeting had to end because several of the people were going to the courthouse in Trujillo where a hearing was being held regarding the case of four campesinos who have been in jail for two years on bogus land, ammunition and gun charges. This would be their first hearing. (Someone seems to have a ready supply of guns and ammunition to plant as evidence. Ammunition and gun charges are common.) We were asked to “accompany” them to the hearing.

Accompaniment is widely practiced in Honduras. Local community members or organizations utilize individuals or groups (like us) partially as a shield against violence and also to demonstrate that there is international interest and support for issues and problems inside Honduras. The world is watching. Our presence for the hearing also potentially help protect the lawyer as well. More lawyers are murdered in Honduras than in any other country in the world. 22 legal professionals were victims of targeted killings in 2015. (Source: Peace Brigades International).

The hearing wasn’t heard while we waited. (The clock in the office at the courthouse had stopped at 10:05 and there was a 2014 calendar hanging on the wall. Justice grinds exceedingly slow down here.)

Later we learned that after listening to the defense arguments, the court decided that here were insufficient grounds for a hearing and the four campesinos remain in jail.

Campesinos, La Lempira.


Chachahuate is the largest Garifuna community within Cayos Cochinos. The island…shrank considerably as a result of hurricane Mitch in 1998 to around 150m by 50m depending on the tide. The sporadic layout of huts remarkably manages to fit forty houses into the crescent shaped island…during the time of the research (July 7th-August 20th, 2004(, the average sample population fluctuated around ninety-three people. The village seems overcrowded yet cozy with the vast expanse of water all around. The beach is covered with Cayucos (small boats), signifying fishing as the primary livelihood of the Garifuna of Cayos Cochinos. Chachahuate is far from sustainable. Their water supply is from a well, which is limited, and all the food and merchandise is brought in from the mainland. The island of Chachahuate is in every sense of the word, a desert island.”
-Alistair Russell, “Examining the Impact of Changing livelihood Strategies upon Garifuna Cultural Identity: a Case Study of Cayos Cochinos” (2005)

In the first photograph you have a boat’s-eye-view of almost the entire length of the island. There is another house and a Cayucos or two on the right.

Approaching Chachahuate.


There are 914 species of birds found in North America (north of the Mexican border). Honduras (about the size and shape of Kentucky) has 722 bird species. Three species of vultures can be seen: Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures. The population of Honduras (2012) is 7,621, 000. 90% of that number is identified as Mestizo. There are six Amerindian groups (Lenca, Miskito, Ch’orti’, Toulpan, Pech or Paya and Sumo or Tawahka); two Afro-Honduran groups (Garifuna and Creaoles) and a smaller population of Palestinians (sometimes called “Turcos") and Chinese.

I thought of this first photograph (of Black Vultures with some Willets wading in the background) as an allegory of Honduras: the shorebirds would stand for the peoples of Honduras; the vultures would betoken the various entities scavenging and gorging themselves. (Fun vulture facts: a group of feeding vultures is called a wake; vultures vomit to lighten their stomach load to escape from predators; New World vultures urinate straight down their legs…the uric acid kills bacteria accumulated from walking through carcasses. Vultures are the perfect proxy for the Honduran bad guys.) But a strict allegory would also require 10 or so more species of shorebirds to represent the diverse ethnic peoples of Honduras. Plenty of shorebird species can be found in Honduras. No problema. However, there also would need to be many, many more species of vultures to align one-to-one with their human/corporate/government/military counterparts. Counting both Old World Vultures (16 species) and New World Vultures (7 species) there are only 23 species; not nearly enough.

Bummer. That would have been a tight little allegory. And an awesome bird photo.

Black Vultures and Willets, Trujillo Bay.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Reminder of the Importance of U.S. Approval On "Sovereign" Honduran Issues

This was the front page of El Heraldo, one of Honduras' largest, nationally-distributed newspapers on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. It is headlines like this that bring the issue of U.S. imperialism to the front and center of my thoughts. Often, I have debates with solidarity activists about how active the role of the U.S. (and Canada) government is in determining how processes like the election of the Supreme Court magistrates, military coups, and promotions within the Honduran military and police, really is. I continue to believe quite strongly what many Honduran activists and human rights defenders say, "The embassy is in charge here" [La embajada gringa manda aqui].

Front page reads "the nominated 45 get green light from Embassy" and the text, "Jorge Machado, ex-member of the Nomination Board, says that they received a congratulatory letter for the work conducted in the selection of the 45 candidates for the Supreme Court. [The Embassy] clarified that that none of the people on the list of 45 candidates are identified [as being involved in illicit activities or not accepted] by the U.S. The justification for PAC [anti-corruption party] to vote against [the process] was that people that had been veto-ed appeared [on the list]"

Note that the headline isn't about the Japanese, German, or Canadian embassy? And notice that all they have to write is the "Embassy" in the headline and everyone assumes which country they are referring to? Now think about a similar headline appearing in a U.S. newspaper? Imagine "The nominated U.S. Supreme Court magistrates get green light from Honduran embassy".

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Four Months of Manipulation: Electing the Honduran Supreme Court Magistrates

Last night, the Honduran National Congress was unable to secure the 86 votes necessary to approve the final 15 proposed Supreme Court magistrate candidates for the 2016-2023 period. Congress will try again this evening by secret vote, a strategy that the opposition claims will hide the identities of congressional representatives that have sold their vote to the National Party. The political opposition and Honduran social movement have been critical of the election processes that narrowed the candidate pool in approximately four months, as stated by law, from 200 to 97 to 45 to 15 final contestants.

In the center of the militarized perimeter surrounding the National Congress, the opposition voted against the 15 proposed magistrates - 13 from the Anti-Corruption party (PAC), 31 reps from LIBRE party (two abstained due to their position in the Multi-partisan Commission), 1 from the Innovation and Unity Party (PINU), and surprisingly 1 congressional representative from the traditional Liberal party. In total, 82 voted in favor, 44 against, falling 4 votes short of the 86-vote majority that is needed.

Source: Pasos de Animal Grande

In the midst of corruption and irregularities, its difficult to pay attention to a process that is indeed very important on an institutional level, but that is so unsurprisingly flawed and representative of the decades-old status quo in Honduras: the exclusion of the political opposition and social movement and their lack of real institutional power; corruption at every level of the process; the manipulation of the Judiciary by the Executive and Legislative branches of government; and the on-going bipartisan power and domination of the National and Liberal party that represent the ten to twelve families of the Honduran political and economic elite (the oligarquía).

Throughout the four-month process, frequent acts of manipulation and corruption were reported by the independent media, the political opposition, and the diverse Honduran social movement. Below is a list of some of the reported irregularities. A full description of the nomination process in Spanish can be found here.

The election process and role of the Nominating Board (Junta Nominadora):

The Board is responsible for narrowing the list of 200 candidates to 45 and presenting their nominations to the National Congress. By law, the Junta consists of seven individuals that are nominated by each of the seven organizations/groups including the Supreme Court; Assembly of the National Bar Association; National Human Rights Commissioner; The National Council for Private Enterprise (COHEP); Assembly of Legal Scholars from Law Faculties or Schools; Civil Society Organizations; and Assembly of the Labor Federations.


** The Coalition Against Impunity that is formed by more than 20 organizations of civil society raised concerns about the manipulation by the Evangelical Brotherhood to impose a candidate on behalf of Civil Society Organization, that defends and represent the interests of the government.

** According to the Coalition Against Impunity, the selection of 45 candidates were made based on individual and political preferences of the seven representatives of the Nomination Board instead of on merit, ability, and professional preparation.

** The Board requested information from the U.S. Embassy regarding the candidates. The U.S. Embassy responded with names of 27 candidates that the U.S. believes have been involved in “professional and personal activities that have been on the fringes of the law.”

Transparency and disclosure of information about Supreme Court magistrate candidates:


** The Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) sanctioned the Nomination Board for not disclosing the results of poly-graph tests, investigations of economic status of candidates (used to detect financial irregularities, drug trafficking, corruption, etc), and psychological analysis of each of the 200 nominees.

** Of the 15 final candidates, 8 are affiliated with the National Party and 7 with the Liberal Party. There are no candidates belonging or affiliated with any of the opposition parties.

** Some of the candidates, including those that made it to the final 15 have questionable backgrounds linked to human rights abuses and/or strong political/economic interests:

- Three candidates accepted by the Nomination Board were involved in the arbitrary firing of four judges following the June 2009 coup. The judges’ behaviours were scrutinized by the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights in the Case López Lone y otros Vs. Honduras

- Miriam Suyapa Barahona Rodriguez (Liberal party candidate): One of four magistrates involved in banning Julio Ernesto Alvarado from working as a journalist in Honduras, as a result of a charge against him for criminal defamation. Ernesto Alvardo worked for the opposition TV channel, TV Globo

- Karla Patricia Garcia Arita (National party candidate): Involved in opening charges against overthrown President Manuel Zelaya, and declared a constitutional challenge to tax increases approved in 2013 on the tail of the IMF agreement, inadmissible.