Vicki M. R. Monague
From May 25 to June 2, 2019 the Cross Border Network Delegation and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor, as a 17-member delegation of Canadian and United States citizens, visited Honduras to investigate the Roots of Migration of Hondurans to the US-Mexico Border.
In the streets, mass demonstrations occurred during a 48-hour strike led by the Platform for the Defense of Education and Health. The demonstrations were held in response to various decrees by the Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) government that would result in the privatization of the two already critically under funded industries. The organization of resistance by Hondurans calling for the resignation of the President could be heard in chants of “FUERA JOH” through city streets. FUERA JOH – “Down with Juan Orlando Hernández!”
Against the Honduran Constitution, JOH, a member of the National Party, was elected for a second term. The Honduran Constitution specifies that a president can only serve for a 4-year term. More recently, the Associated Press reported that JOH and his closest friends were the subject of a United States Drug Enforcement Administration investigation during his first term of Presidency. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against JOH’s second presidential term in 2017. Hondurans raised several concerns related to discrepancies in the election process, and the use of intimidation tactics by police and military to gain votes in favor of JOH. Despite concerns of electoral fraud and defiance of the Honduran Constitution, the United States, Canadian and other foreign governments continued to recognize the legitimacy of the JOH government. Under Article 3 of the Honduran Constitution, Hondurans have the right to resort to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order. The exercise of their constitutional rights is limited however, by the excessive use of force by military and police.
Two political prisoners Edwin Espinal, Gustavo Adolfo Cáceres and Raul Alvarez were being held for over 18 months in La Tolva Maximum Security Prison for protesting the electoral fraud that resulted in JOH’s election. According to the Free Edwin Facebook page, the defense team for Edwin and Raul argued in Court on August 9, 2019 that their “pre-trial detention was a decision make arbitrarily by the lower court who had no jurisdiction to hear the case”. It was argued that the decision was punitive in nature. After meeting with Raul and Edwin in La Tolva Maximum Security Prison in the Roots of Migration Delegation, it was apparent that prison conditions were meant to give inmates a slow death, with catastrophic human rights abuses that included lack of access to water for both health and sanitation and lack of access to medical care, amongst other concerns. The defence team for Edwin and Raul were both granted a conditional release on Friday. This is a major victory for political prisoners in Honduras and a sign to the lower courts that the justice system can no longer be used as a means for punishing those standing up for the Liberation of Hondurans.
During the National Strike, the Honduran Media outlets and social media posts soon began reporting the use of live-fire and rubber bullets on peaceful demonstrators, many of whom danced in the streets and had Zumba demonstrations as a show of their resistance. Several temporary blockades happened in all major cities including Tegucigalpa, El Progresso, Trujillo and La Ceiba during the 48-hour strike. Sadly, multiple deaths and tear-gas related injuries were reported as a result of excessive repression by military and police forces, at the command of Juan Orlando Hernández.
On Friday, May 31, 2019, the Cross Border Network and the Simcoe Country Honduras Rights Monitor met with officials at the US and Canadian Embassies in Honduras. The narrative offered by officials at the Canadian Embassy was one Canadians hear all too often from elected officials. When I asked Officials whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was fully aware of the Human Rights Crisis in Honduras, I was told that the information is given to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, not directly to the Prime Minister. From this visit, it was evident to me that Canada’s presence in Honduras was merely for political optics and not supporting the liberation of the Honduran people.
After the visit to the Canadian Embassy, we attended the US Embassy. While I opted not to attend the meeting, I remained outside the US Embassy waiting for our delegation in a parked vehicle. Soon after a march of demonstrators flowed down the street. Immediately, police and military were on scene and our vehicle was caught between both groups. For a moment, I feared for my life because I knew that police and military were using tear gas, live fire and rubber bullets. I was concerned that demonstrators would face excessive repression by police and military. Soon after, a fire was lit at the doors of the Embassy. Our delegation was on lock-down inside the US Embassy. Our Honduran friend who was travelling with us left our vehicle to check on the delegation and was subsequently tear gassed. Our delegation was released from the US Embassy shortly after 2 pm.
Within hours, police arrested a suspect who was then sent to La Tolva Prison, where his estimated wait for trial is two-years. It is important to note that demonstrations on the ground are infiltrated with pro-JOH supporters, and unidentified Police and Military personnel seek to destabilize the movement from within and create opportunities to criminalize resistance leaders. The assassination of Berta Caceres is one example of the imminent danger that Honduran Resistance Leaders are in.
As Canadian and US citizens, we have a duty to the greater good of humanity to hold our governments and businesses to account for the exploitation of Honduras. Through their support for the illegal JOH government, Canadian businesses involved in human labour exploitation through sweat shop operations, agriculture and call-centres, and illegal land accumulation for Canadian mining and tourism projects, they are active participants in the oppression of the Honduran people. Canadian businesses monopolize the Honduran economy and if their demands are not met, then they move operations to other “developing” countries. Businesses must be held to account for the socio-economic and sometimes environmental harms they have caused the Honduran people.
Resistance leaders are calling upon foreign governments to immediately halt security aide to Honduras, as it is being used by the JOH Government in the continued onslaught of excessive repression of demonstrators exercising their constitutionally protected rights. Resistance Leaders (who must remain unnamed as it places them at risk) are calling for foreign governments to stop endorsing the JOH Government. The Security Assistance Monitor reports that the United States had been previously involved in weapons agreements with Honduras, as well as security and economic Aide. The Political agenda of the United States and Canada for Honduras appears to be a hypocritical game to keep exploiting the Honduran economy while sending foreign aide as a band-aid solution to the on-going human rights crisis.
The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna nation located near Trujillo, Honduras has been participating in land reclamation projects as Canadian companies like NJOI continue to illegally appropriate their lands for the building of gated retirement communities. Garifuna lands are currently under threat by other Canadian tourism projects, which are illegally obtaining Indigenous lands such as (NJOI Trujillo Beach Resorts, Banana Beach Resort). Local area residents have raised concerns that the primary water source of the community is being use for the purposes of filling swimming pools and meeting the demands of tourism projects before meeting the needs of the community. The Garifuna hold legal title to their lands, but in order to retain lands that have been expropriated, they must prove that they are using the land in their reclamation projects. These projects thus focus on food and housing security, empowering each other using naturally grown food and building homes from the natural elements of the earth.
The Lenca people of Reitoca, who are also Indigenous Hondurans, are currently fighting a hydro-electric dam on the Petacón River. They have set up a camp where the dam is being built and have successfully stopped some of the heavy machinery from going in. In April 2019, members of the community were heavily repressed by security officials of the hydro-electric dam proponent, Promotora de Energia Limpia S.A. (PROGELSA). river since the resistance to the project began in 2017, three of their community members have been shot standing up for protecting.
Under the terms of International Labour Organization Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169, also known as IOL 169), which Honduras ratified on March 28, 1995, the Honduran Government is required to consult all Indigenous Nations in Honduras. The new Honduran Secrecy Law (Law of Official Secrets and Classification of Public Information), which limits information given to local communities in favor of development projects, is in violation of IOL 169 as it completely ignores the obligation to free, prior and informed consent. Complete ignorance of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples is a global crisis. If we are to even bring justice to the forced colonization of Indigenous peoples, we must start with honouring Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Indigenous Nations like the Garifuna want people to visit their lands and territories, but they also want to be partners and beneficiaries of tourism activities.
With Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262, dubbed the “UNDRIP” bill which is in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, we must ask ourselves as citizens in Canada if we are really interested in holding true to the vision this UNDRIP is trying to achieve. Article 46 of the UNDRIP bill appears to be a questionable limitation of assertion of rights within the context of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and undermines the vision of nation-to-nation relationships. The vision of what the bill is trying to achieve in terms of guaranteeing some basic human rights for Indigenous peoples is something that must be held in the hearts and minds of everyone if we are to achieve justice, fairness, equality and reconciliation. We cannot be true to this vision if we are applying rights of Indigenous peoples here, but then allowing the Canadian Government, Businesses and other stakeholders to exploit the rights of Indigenous peoples world-wide. The history of colonialism world-wide has exploited all Indigenous peoples, where many nations are facing direct threat to their sovereignty and autonomy and the exploitation of basic human rights, racism, discrimination and subjugation. If we are going to be allies to Indigenous peoples, we must be allies to all Indigenous peoples including the Garifuna, the Lenca and all Indigenous nations in Honduras.
The socio-economic conditions of the Honduran state are caused by multiple factors. Canada and the United States play a huge roll in the oppression of the Honduran people. The policies and decrees of the JOH regime reflect a pattern of neoliberalism on steroids. Neoliberalism seems to be a deadly disease that is infecting every government body world-wide, including the Ontario Government under Doug Ford. Many Hondurans reported in the last week that they have two options: stay in Honduras and be criminalized or leave to seek a better life. They reported that the caravans do not come without the loss of life or personal expense, but that the risk of taking a caravan is less of a risk to their safety than staying to be criminalized.
What would you do if it was you, your family, your nation? For nearly forty years the logic neoliberalism has guided both the Liberal and Conservative parties both federally and provincially. We too, are slowly inching our way to lowering the quality of life for Canadians in favor of capitalism, where only a few benefit from the profits of economic activities.
There is something to be said about Honduran resistance and organizing. Even knowing that they face imminent danger, they still stand up for what they believe in. The last line of defense for the rule of law in Honduras against corruption, narco-politics, and systems of dominance and subjugation is the Honduran people who gather on the streets, sometimes every week like the Torchlight March in El Progresso that calls for the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernández.
The central philosophy for the Anishinabe worldview is the promotion, protection and extension of life, including our own, those around us and our environment. We are taught from early on about how precious and special life is. Hondurans, in the face of militarized repression, are standing up for life with all they have, and with all that they are, with strength and dignity while teaching the world what resistance looks like. The removal of the JOH Government will allow the space needed for Hondurans to be the creators of their own vision of “The Good Life,” and begin shifting the systems of dominance and subordination. We must rally around them and work for the good of humanity.
Vicki M. R. Monague is an award-winning Land, Water and Indigenous Rights activist from the Anishinabe community of Beausoleil First Nation, Ontario, Canada.
August 5, 2019
We send you a fraternal and revolutionary embrace. We know that relations of solidarity are even stronger in times of
repression. Our nation has suffered pain, despair, and uncertainty since the time of Spanish colonization. Our people
have spent many generations in struggle. And today, when we had naïvely thought that coups d’etat had been
relegated to Latin America’s dark past, the war-hungry hawks of the north—enemies of democracy, freedom, and
self-determination—demolished our country’s meager progress in one fell swoop. It has taken them two electoral
frauds and continuous violations of the already obsolete Constitution of the Honduran Republic to maintain the
dictatorship in power.
In response to this situation, the nation took to the streets in defense of the victory obtained at the ballot box [in
2017]. Many Hondurans have been assassinated, forced into exile, persecuted and criminalized. Many of those in the
latter category have been released to defend themselves in court, but the three of us and Gustavo Cáceres in El
Progreso remain in pretrial detention, having been denied due process, impartiality and individual protections.
We are imprisoned in the La Tolva Maximum Security Penitentiary Center, built for members of gangs and organized
crime networks and extremely violent prisoners. As such, the prisons are internally controlled by those dangerous
actors, which means that our personal security is in their hands, rather than in those of the authorities. We have
suffered verbal and physical attacks and even death threats. We have issued complaints, with witnesses and full
names of our attackers, but the authorities have ignored us. For this reason, we have made the decision to take
measures to pressure the authorities, due to the urgent need to protect our bodily integrity and our lives.
This is necessary since we have received nothing but further repression and hostility in response to our complaints.
For example, we have been shut into an improvised cell that does not meet the most basic conditions for humane
imprisonment, since it lacks running water, toilet, ventilation, drinking water, and the temperature is so high that it is
nearly impossible to sleep at night.
Today, on August 5, we begin another effort to make ourselves heard by the government through a hunger strike,
since our lives are already in danger in the hands of the organized criminals in the government. It is a final attempt to
make these indifferent authorities do something about our situation.
We share with our nation the indignation of witnessing the treatment of white collar criminals like Callejas, Elvin
Santos, Lena Gutierrez, Antonio Rivera Callejas, Ramon Lobo, Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, Miguel Pastor, the
murderous soldiers and police, and the intellectual authors of the murder of our friend Berta Cáceres—who we know
will never face trial—while we continue to be imprisoned, accused of common crimes like damage to private property,
protesting, and raising our voices against injustices and social inequality, in the same way that students, organized
teachers, Garífunas and indigenous peoples are criminalized.
We speak to you with one voice from in here, to tell you that they will never silence our voices demanding justice. As
long as there is social inequality, the people will always be prepared to rise up in anger. Because we have chosen the
difficult path: we have chosen freedom over subservience, we have chosen peace over violence, freedom over
oppression, and we have chosen struggle, to build a better world.
HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE, COMRADES
From Edwin Robelo Espinal, Rommel Baldemar Herrera Portillo and Raúl Eduardo Alvarez Ordoñez