Biden’s USAID Plans for Central America: Slim Chance of Positive Change for Honduras

From Springwater News

Honduras Update: April 29, 2021
Biden’s USAID Plans for Central America: Slim
Chance of Positive Change for Honduras

Throughout the US presidential campaign, Biden
made promises to change the stringent Trump policies
on migration from Central America. After 100 days in
office, the Biden/Harris team promises have attempted to
solve some issues by setting up task forces to deal with
the separation of parents and children at the US border
and increase government supervision over U.S. border
and immigration agencies. But legislation to stop family
separations and defunding Trump’s border wall has proved to be complicated.
Most complex is the issue of immigration and stopping the
influx of migrant caravans entering Mexico on a pathway
to the US border. According to the US administration the
way to stop people from leaving Honduras, Guatemala, El
Salvador, etc. is to fund USAID programs. (United States
Agency for International Development). This institution
throws monies at Central American governments and
agencies and partners with private sector companies.
But will this affect positive change in Honduras and stop
the root causes of migration?
Hondurans most affected
by poverty, climate disasters, COVID-19, lack of jobs,
extortion and corruption in their government say NO!
One of Simcoe County Honduras Human Rights’
Monitor’s concerns is the US and Canada’s knowledge
of widespread corruption in the Honduran government.
In order to implement many of their “development”
programs, USAID must work alongside the Honduran
government despite knowing fully well, the slim chances
that aid money will be managed in a transparent manner.
In fact, information surfaced in US courts indicating that
the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said
that his government had created fake non-governmental
organizations and had used US aid money to help fund
his political campaigns.
US prosecutors included this
information in credible court documents in the Southern
District court of New York.
It is also worth noting that several Honduran organizations
including human rights organizations, civil society groups,
religious figures, women, indigenous and small farmer
groups, have requested the suspension of humanitarian aid
to Honduras from foreign governments.
This is because
they believe that the money does not benefit or is received
by the people that most need it, and instead, it is used to
prop up an illegitimate government and stolen to line the pockets of government officials and their family members and business allies.
USAID provides very little public information about the exact projects and initiatives they support. It is very
difficult to verify the locations of their aid programs and
evaluate how effective their funds are and will be.
This is information that has been made available and SCHRM’s
comments regarding these programs and support:
USAID has provided the following from their fact
sheet on aid to Honduras.
Agricultural Sector:
“In Honduras, USAID is scaling up agricultural assistance to serve 40,000 farmer households
and providing skills training to returnees (those who
attempted to travel to the US), making them more employable and economically resilient and less likely to re-migrate.”
Farmers in Honduras have been hard hit by the November
hurricanes. They have lost their crops from high winds
and torrential rains. The soil has been washed away. Many
farmers do not have the funds to recondition their small
plots of land and many do not have sufficient land to feed
their families.
Land is often made very accessible to large-scale farmers growing crops such as inedible African palm fruit and tropical fruits like bananas, pineapple, and melons. Unfortunately, most of the most fertile lands in
Honduras are used to grow such crops for export.
Although supporting 40,000 farmers with agricultural assistance may provide temporary relief, it does not guarantee their
secure access to land – a major impediment to economic
advancement of many farmers – and unconditional and
consistent support from USAID programs.
In addition, Honduras has a population of 9 million people and only serving 40,000 households does not meet the need that has
significantly grown over the past 10+ years.
The need is extensive and small farmers have consistently
complained about the lack of technical and financial
support, land access, and willing state institutions to assist
small farmers. Wealthy members of the farming sector
have no reason to migrate to the US. Only the large-scale
oligarchy farmers who are partnering with companies such
as Monsanto, or wealthy African palm oil producers, will
benefit from these funds.
The poor farmers who have lost
their livelihoods attempt to migrate. They do not benefit
from this plan.
Humanitarian Assistance:
“USAID provides emergency
assistance including emergency food, shelter, water,
sanitation and hygiene, and other support in response
to needs arising from shocks and natural disasters. The
Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is focused on
rapidly scaling up emergency food assistance, programs
to help people earn an income, protection for the most
vulnerable, and other critical humanitarian programs.
These response and early recovery programs save lives and ensure people can quickly recover economically after a disaster.”
According to the Honduran organizers that our
community supports through SCHRM, the people have
not seen any aid in terms of food or products to assist them
to rebuild homes that were lost through the hurricanes.
Often, when aid is given, especially in coordination with
the Honduran government, small bags of food are handed
out only to families that vote for the governing political
party.
Makeshift shelters to house the homeless are run by
community volunteers or Honduran organizations with no
affiliation to USAID or the Honduran government, who
rely on funds from organizations like ours. Many families
are still living in tents by the sides of the highways and
under overpasses.
Reducing Impact of Natural Disasters:
“In eight urban neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, USAID helps communities operationalize early warning and response systems to mitigate destruction and loss of life due to
landslides as well as supports small-scale improvements
to homes at risk of being damaged in extreme weather
events. In drought-affected areas, USAID teaches farmers
sustainable agricultural practices to build resilience to climate and weather extremes and increase yields, sometimes by up to 50 percent.”
According to our grassroots contacts in Tegucigalpa
(capital city), there were no proactive effective
announcements followed by proactive implementation
of prevention measures regarding the hurricanes.
Instead, the Honduran government was encouraging people to go on vacation and go to the beaches for a government-celebrated holiday and downplaying the potential impacts of the hurricanes before they hit the country.
Roads were washed out and bridges had collapsed before any notifications were sent out. None or very little government
assistance or relief was provided to people who needed
help the most. Many roads and bridges are still in need of
replacement or repair.
USAID coordinates their work through the Honduran
government’s disaster relief institution known as COPECO.
COPECO and its administrators have been heavily criticized and mentioned in corruption cases since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the complete mismanagement of pandemic relief efforts, including the purchase of $48 million-dollar mobile hospitals that to date, have not been set up or are completely inadequate to receive Covid-19 patients.
Supporting Returning Migrants:
“USAID will continue
supporting the reintegration of returned migrants. USAID
provides returned migrants with support for workforce
training and job placement, school reintegration, health
programming, and psychosocial counseling for Central
Americans. The USAID programs give migrants concrete
opportunities so that they do not attempt the dangerous
trek north again.”
According to international human rights groups on the ground, these programs are facilitated by the Honduran government and some NGOs. But they are of no significant help. Instead of the US addressing the root causes of migration, and making agreements with the Central
American governments to patrol their own borders to stop
migration, people ask, “Why not address the root causes
of migration?”
The Biden administration has now secured agreements
with the Honduran, Guatemalan, and Mexican governments
to put troops at their borders to stop migrant caravans from
leaving their homelands. (See photo, courtesy of the Daily
Mail)
Now the border wall has moved further south, where
the military stops their own people from leaving. Instead
of addressing the reasons why people are leaving their
families, land, and possessions, the US signs agreements
to stop them, yet desperation gives them no choice and
forces families to make the difficult, dangerous journey
toward the US border.
There are many migrants that once deported back to Honduras, decide again and again to make the dangerous trip to the US-Mexico border. This
is because the root causes and dire conditions that drives
migration in the first place, are never actually addressed by
USAID or other aid programs.
For further information retrieved on USAID to Honduras,
refer to the following link:
https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/fact-sheets/apr-2021-usaid-increases-efforts-address-irregular-migration-el-salvador
SCHRM Meets with Federal MPs On April 22, SCHRM met with MPs Bruce Stanton, Doug
Shipley, and MP Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary
to the Honourable Marc Garneau (Minister of Foreign
Affairs).
We gave MP Oliphant an update on the case of Edwin Espinal and other political prisoners arrested during the post electoral crisis of 2017. MP Oliphant will
bring Edwin’s case forward to the Honduran Ambassador
to Canada, Sofia Cerrato Rodriguez, and to the Canadian
Ambassador to Honduras, James Hill.
Springwater Township and MP Stanton and Shipley sent
a resolution and letter respectively in support of Edwin’s case. They received correspondence back from Minister Marc Garneau. Garneau is well aware of Edwin’s case
and remarks, “Please be assured that the promotion and
protection of human rights is at the core of Canada’s
engagement in Honduras and that we will continue to
closely monitor this case.
Canada consistently urges
Honduran authorities to ensure accountability for human
rights violations, and to ensure respect for the rule of law
and due process, including for Mr. Espinal.”
As Edwin and Raul’s case are scheduled for September
13-14, 2021, unless postponed for the third time, Stanton,
Shipley, and Oliphant remarked on the importance of
making sure Honduran government understands that
Canadian officials are “watching.”
The Spring family and
SCHRM thank MPs and Springwater Council for their
continued support and concern for Edwin Espinal and
Karen Spring.
SCHRM Continues to Support the Food Program in El Progreso
We thank the Springwater residents who continue to
support the food program in El Progreso. Our grassroots
organizers remark that the need for food donations is great.
Also greatly appreciated are funds to help rebuild their
battered homes.
If you wish to support the food program, contact us at:
705-734-4238 or via email at: janetspring7@gmail.com.
Thank you.
Janet Spring, Kate Harries, Christine Nugent, Rev. Meg
Jordan for the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor

Advertisements

USAID fact sheets state…

“In Honduras, USAID is scaling up agricultural assistance to serve 40,000 farmer households and providing skills training to returnees, making them more employable and economically resilient and less likely to re-migrate.
Partnering with the Private Sector: USAID works with local and international companies in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to capitalize on their know-how, resources, and expertise to accelerate job creation. USAID’s partnerships with major companies, such as Walmart, Starbucks, and Tigo, promote private investment, expand opportunities, and propel economic growth. Recently, USAID leveraged more than $85 million from the private sector and other organizations in these countries to support vocational training, education, and employment opportunities for at-risk youth, and increased food security and incomes for vulnerable communities.
Providing Humanitarian Assistance: USAID provides emergency assistance including emergency food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and other support in response to needs arising from shocks and natural disasters. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to lead the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response to mitigate the impact of recurrent drought, severe food insecurity, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic including in communities still recovering from back-to-back hurricanes that hit just five months ago. The DART is focused on rapidly scaling up emergency food assistance, programs to help people earn an income, protection for the most vulnerable, and other critical humanitarian programs. These response and early recovery programs save lives and ensure people can quickly recover economically after a disaster.
Reducing the Economic Impact of Natural Disasters: USAID’s humanitarian assistance helps communities strengthen their ability to withstand disasters, such as hurricanes, and limit their economic impact. For example, in eight urban neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, USAID helps communities operationalize early warning and response systems to mitigate destruction and loss of life due to landslides as well as supports small-scale improvements to homes at risk of being damaged in extreme weather events. In drought-affected areas of all three countries, USAID teaches farmers sustainable agricultural practices to build resilience to climate and weather extremes and increase yields, sometimes by up to 50 percent.
Supporting Returned Migrants: USAID will continue supporting the reintegration of returned migrants. USAID provides returned migrants with support for workforce training and job placement, school reintegration, health programming, and psychosocial counseling for Central Americans. The USAID programs give migrants concrete opportunities so that they do not attempt the dangerous trek north again.”

https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/fact-sheets/apr-2021-usaid-increases-efforts-address-irregular-migration-el-salvador

Our Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor (SCHRM) has been very active for the past three years advocating for justice for political prisoners in Honduras due to the 2017 electoral crisis in that country.

The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor continues to advocate for human rights in Central America. We publish regularly in our rural bi-weekly print and online newspaper, the Springwater News. We have been working hard to apprise our rural communities in Simcoe County and beyond of issues that political prisoners are facing in Honduras and particularly of the case of Edwin Espinal as he and his fellow political prisoner Raul Alvarez go to trial in September 13-14 (if the trial isn’t postponed again for the third time). We have been reporting on and supporting the Guapinol water defenders, the Pimienta and Lenca land defenders, the struggles of the Garifuna communities in the north coastal areas, COPINH, and many more. We have also been reporting on Canadian tourist and mining companies’ involvement in Honduras as they impact human rights.

Since the pandemic began we have been supporting the food programs in Tegucigalpa and in El Progreso, which has been an area hardest hit during and in the aftermath of the two November hurricanes. We have sent approximately $14,000 to grassroots organizers in these areas and will continue to do so as donations come in from our local residents. SCHRM has also sent funds to other rural and remote communities so that they can purchase PPE for their residents.

Most complex is the issue of immigration and stopping the
influx of migrant caravans entering Mexico on a pathway
to the US border. According to the US administration the
way to stop people from leaving Honduras, Guatemala, El
Salvador, etc. is to fund USAID programs. (United States
Agency for International Development). This institution
throws monies at Central American governments and
agencies and partners with private sector companies.

But will this affect positive change in Honduras and stop
the root causes of migration?

Hondurans most affected
by poverty, climate disasters, COVID-19, lack of jobs,
extortion and corruption in their government say NO!

One of Simcoe County Honduras Human Rights’
Monitor’s concerns is the US and Canada’s knowledge
of widespread corruption in the Honduran government.
In order to implement many of their “development”
programs, USAID must work alongside the Honduran
government despite knowing fully well, the slim chances
that aid money will be managed in a transparent manner.

In fact, information surfaced in US courts indicating that
the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said
that his government had created fake non-governmental
organizations and had used US aid money to help fund
his political campaigns.

US prosecutors included this
information in credible court documents in the Southern
District court of New York.
It is also worth noting that several Honduran organizations
including human rights organizations, civil society groups,
religious figures, women, indigenous and small farmer
groups, have requested the suspension of humanitarian aid
to Honduras from foreign governments.

This is because
they believe that the money does not benefit or is received
by the people that most need it, and instead, it is used to
prop up an illegitimate government and stolen to line the pockets of government officials and their family members and business allies.

USAID provides very little public information about the exact projects and initiatives they support. It is very
difficult to verify the locations of their aid programs and
evaluate how effective their funds are and will be.

This is information that has been made available and SCHRM’s
comments regarding these programs and support:

USAID has provided the following from their fact
sheet on aid to Honduras.

Agricultural Sector:

“In Honduras, USAID is scaling up agricultural assistance to serve 40,000 farmer households
and providing skills training to returnees (those who
attempted to travel to the US), making them more employable and economically resilient and less likely to re-migrate.”

Farmers in Honduras have been hard hit by the November
hurricanes. They have lost their crops from high winds
and torrential rains. The soil has been washed away. Many
farmers do not have the funds to recondition their small
plots of land and many do not have sufficient land to feed
their families.

Land is often made very accessible to large-scale farmers growing crops such as inedible African palm fruit and tropical fruits like bananas, pineapple, and melons. Unfortunately, most of the most fertile lands in
Honduras are used to grow such crops for export.

Although supporting 40,000 farmers with agricultural assistance may provide temporary relief, it does not guarantee their
secure access to land – a major impediment to economic
advancement of many farmers – and unconditional and
consistent support from USAID programs.

In addition, Honduras has a population of 9 million people and only serving 40,000 households does not meet the need that has
significantly grown over the past 10+ years.

The need is extensive and small farmers have consistently
complained about the lack of technical and financial
support, land access, and willing state institutions to assist
small farmers. Wealthy members of the farming sector
have no reason to migrate to the US. Only the large-scale
oligarchy farmers who are partnering with companies such
as Monsanto, or wealthy African palm oil producers, will
benefit from these funds.

The poor farmers who have lost
their livelihoods attempt to migrate. They do not benefit
from this plan.

Humanitarian Assistance:

“USAID provides emergency
assistance including emergency food, shelter, water,
sanitation and hygiene, and other support in response
to needs arising from shocks and natural disasters. The
Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is focused on
rapidly scaling up emergency food assistance, programs
to help people earn an income, protection for the most
vulnerable, and other critical humanitarian programs.
These response and early recovery programs save lives and ensure people can quickly recover economically after a disaster.”

According to the Honduran organizers that our
community supports through SCHRM, the people have
not seen any aid in terms of food or products to assist them
to rebuild homes that were lost through the hurricanes.

Often, when aid is given, especially in coordination with
the Honduran government, small bags of food are handed
out only to families that vote for the governing political
party.

Makeshift shelters to house the homeless are run by
community volunteers or Honduran organizations with no
affiliation to USAID or the Honduran government, who
rely on funds from organizations like ours. Many families
are still living in tents by the sides of the highways and
under overpasses.

Reducing Impact of Natural Disasters:

“In eight urban neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, USAID helps communities operationalize early warning and response systems to mitigate destruction and loss of life due to
landslides as well as supports small-scale improvements
to homes at risk of being damaged in extreme weather
events. In drought-affected areas, USAID teaches farmers
sustainable agricultural practices to build resilience to climate and weather extremes and increase yields, sometimes by up to 50 percent.”

According to our grassroots contacts in Tegucigalpa
(capital city), there were no proactive effective
announcements followed by proactive implementation
of prevention measures regarding the hurricanes.
Instead, the Honduran government was encouraging people to go on vacation and go to the beaches for a government-celebrated holiday and downplaying the potential impacts of the hurricanes before they hit the country.

Roads were washed out and bridges had collapsed before any notifications were sent out. None or very little government
assistance or relief was provided to people who needed
help the most. Many roads and bridges are still in need of
replacement or repair.

USAID coordinates their work through the Honduran
government’s disaster relief institution known as COPECO.
COPECO and its administrators have been heavily criticized and mentioned in corruption cases since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the complete mismanagement of pandemic relief efforts, including the purchase of $48 million-dollar mobile hospitals that to date, have not been set up or are completely inadequate to receive Covid-19 patients.

Supporting Returning Migrants:

“USAID will continue
supporting the reintegration of returned migrants. USAID
provides returned migrants with support for workforce
training and job placement, school reintegration, health
programming, and psychosocial counseling for Central
Americans. The USAID programs give migrants concrete
opportunities so that they do not attempt the dangerous
trek north again.”

According to international human rights groups on the ground, these programs are facilitated by the Honduran government and some NGOs. But they are of no significant help. Instead of the US addressing the root causes of migration, and making agreements with the Central
American governments to patrol their own borders to stop
migration, people ask, “Why not address the root causes
of migration?”

The Biden administration has now secured agreements
with the Honduran, Guatemalan, and Mexican governments
to put troops at their borders to stop migrant caravans from
leaving their homelands. (See photo, courtesy of the Daily
Mail)

Now the border wall has moved further south, where
the military stops their own people from leaving. Instead
of addressing the reasons why people are leaving their
families, land, and possessions, the US signs agreements
to stop them, yet desperation gives them no choice and
forces families to make the difficult, dangerous journey
toward the US border.

There are many migrants that once deported back to Honduras, decide again and again to make the dangerous trip to the US-Mexico border. This
is because the root causes and dire conditions that drives
migration in the first place, are never actually addressed by
USAID or other aid programs.

For further information retrieved on USAID to Honduras,
refer to the following link:

https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/fact-sheets/apr-2021-usaid-increases-efforts-address-irregular-migration-el-salvador

SCHRM Meets with Federal MPs On April 22, SCHRM met with MPs Bruce Stanton, Doug
Shipley, and MP Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary
to the Honourable Marc Garneau (Minister of Foreign
Affairs).

We gave MP Oliphant an update on the case of Edwin Espinal and other political prisoners arrested during the post electoral crisis of 2017. MP Oliphant will
bring Edwin’s case forward to the Honduran Ambassador
to Canada, Sofia Cerrato Rodriguez, and to the Canadian
Ambassador to Honduras, James Hill.

Springwater Township and MP Stanton and Shipley sent
a resolution and letter respectively in support of Edwin’s case. They received correspondence back from Minister Marc Garneau. Garneau is well aware of Edwin’s case
and remarks, “Please be assured that the promotion and
protection of human rights is at the core of Canada’s
engagement in Honduras and that we will continue to
closely monitor this case.

Canada consistently urges
Honduran authorities to ensure accountability for human
rights violations, and to ensure respect for the rule of law
and due process, including for Mr. Espinal.”

As Edwin and Raul’s case are scheduled for September
13-14, 2021, unless postponed for the third time, Stanton,
Shipley, and Oliphant remarked on the importance of
making sure Honduran government understands that
Canadian officials are “watching.”

The Spring family and
SCHRM thank MPs and Springwater Council for their
continued support and concern for Edwin Espinal and
Karen Spring.
SCHRM Continues to Support the Food Program in El Progreso

We thank the Springwater residents who continue to
support the food program in El Progreso. Our grassroots
organizers remark that the need for food donations is great.
Also greatly appreciated are funds to help rebuild their
battered homes.
If you wish to support the food program, contact us at:
705-734-4238 or via email at: janetspring7@gmail.com.

Thank you.
Janet Spring, Kate Harries, Christine Nugent, Rev. Meg
Jordan for the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor
Committee

Biden tells migrant caravan to stop heading to the US:
Courtesy of Daily Mail

Press Release: US Legislation Bill Sanctions President Juan Orlando Hernandez:

On February 23, 2021, six United States Senators introduced legislation to sanction the President of Honduras – Juan Orlando Hernandez. The purpose of the bill – the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act is “to suspend certain United States assistance for the government of Honduras until corruption, impunity, and human rights violation are no longer systemic, and the perpetrators of these crimes are being brought to justice” This bill was introduced, read twice, and referred to committee to be enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress.

The Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Bill has come at a time when President Biden has pledged to tackle human rights issues in Central America, issues that have precipitated continuous caravans of thousands of Honduras leaving the country attempting to reach the US to apply for asylum.

The bill was brought forward by Senators Leahy (Vermont), Merkley (Oregon), Sanders (Vermont), Markey (Massachusetts), Warren (Massachusetts), Durbin (Illinois), Whitehouse (Rhode Island), and Van Hollen (Maryland). The complete document can be found at: https://www.merkley.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Merkley%20Honduras%20Human%20Rights%20and%20Anti-Corruption%20Act%5B1%5D.pdf

It is interesting to note that Senators Leahy, Durbin, and Merkley are following the cases of Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez, who were arrested for speaking against the Honduran government after the illegal election of Hernandez in November 2017. While Edwin and Raul were imprisoned in La Tolva maximum-security prison, Karen Spring visited many Senators’ offices. They expressed grave concern regarding human rights violations occurring at the hands of the Honduran government. They continue to monitor the situation and offer their support.

Not only does the bill address human rights violations, but strongly denounces the impunity of the Honduran military. The Honduran National Police, the Armed Forces, the Military Police of Public Order of the Republic of Honduras, the Para-police, Paramilitary Forces, and National Force for the Control of Prisons are all under the direction of Hernandez. With widespread collusion, excessive force, and lack of a fair judicial process, the bill denounces Hernandez’ “failure to protect the rights, interests, and physical security” of the Honduran people, indigenous lands, natural resources, and international treaties.

On a personal note, while visiting Honduras, I have often wondered who I would call if I felt unsafe. In Honduras no one who feels in danger calls the police. The police are not there to serve and protect. In one instance, I was alone in the house while Karen was attending to a court case. A knock came at the door. Who would I call? All Hondurans feel the same. There is no one to protect you.

Hernandez himself is specifically mentioned in the bill as a person who has “engaged in a pattern of criminal activity and use of the state apparatus to protect and facilitate drug trafficking, as exemplified by three high-profile corruption and drug trafficking cases that were tried or are being prosecuted in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.” In these cases, he is named as co-conspirator.

Specific details brought forward in this bill include Hernandez’ acceptance of 1.5 million US dollars from drug proceeds to fund his 2013 election, $25,000 bribe from drug trafficker Fuentes to fund his drug activities and use of the Honduran military to guard and facilitate these activities. Also documented in the bill through the indictment of his former National Director of Police – ‘El Tigre’ Juan Carlos Bonilla, Hernandez is accused of the acceptance of “bribes from drug traffickers, facilitating multi-ton shipments of cocaine bound for the United States and entrusted the defendant with special assignments including murder.”

Further details include President Hernandez’ blatant contempt for the rule of law by supporting the military coup d’état of 2009 that ousted President Mel Zelaya. Hernandez also was accused of running for a second term, despite being against the constitution as illegal, entrenched corruption. The bill states that “in recent months, the executive and legislative branches of the government have taken significant steps to block oversight by national prosecutors and international investigators and shield senior officials and parliamentarians from criminal liability.”

Specific instances include Hernandez closing the MACCIH (Mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras) – a body that investigates individual and state corruption. Information brought forward by the MACCIH named 14 cases of high-level corruption. Shortly after the announcement, this internationally funded organization was disbanded by President Hernandez.

In June of 2020, the government enacted a new penal code that “reduced prison terms for corruption-related crimes, embezzlement, illicit enrichment, obstruction of justice and fraud.” The code is retroactive so any Honduran officials who were previously convicted or under prosecution would be exempt. In addition, cases that involved improper use of state funds would not be investigated.

The bill also states that Honduras “ranks as the deadliest country in the world for human rights and environmental defenders on a per capita basis and third in the number of assassinations, with 31 defenders killed in 2019 alone and 204 defenders killed since 2009.” Listed are specific defenders who have spoken against the wealthy Atala family and sentenced to prison terms, environmental defenders killed such as Berta Caceres, those who have been disappeared such as the Garifuna leaders who haven’t been seen since 2020, and 34,000 Hondurans who have been detained on the pretense of violating curfews, where they have been murdered, tortured, as they expose human rights violations and the lack of use of international funds donated specifically for pandemic health.

It is interesting to note however, that there seems to be some cracks forming between leaders of the state police forces and the President. According to Honduran news media, Criterio.hn, “Discontent within the Armed Forces transcends for top leadership support for Juan Hernandez.” Are supporters of Juan Orlando Hernandez starting to break ranks as he begins to lose favour within his party, state forces, and with the US? (See photo of Hernandez, courtesy of Criterio.hn)

What is Canada’s Role in Honduras?
Canada’s attitude toward the Honduran government simply cannot continue. The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor (SCHRM) has been outlining the above abuses occurring at the hands of President Juan Orlando Hernandez since the committee’s inception in 2018. We have urged Canadian government officials to speak out against this continued impunity and corruption as it relates to the case of Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez. We have received support from MPs who have written letters, yet Canada has not taken concrete, positive action. We ask the Canadian government to become informed about the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act and provide a statement on Canada’s position.

The Canadian government under the leadership of Justin Trudeau and under the previous administration of Stephen Harper, has refused to make statements about the corruption in the Honduran government and the fact that the Honduran state is run by drug traffickers. Its refusal to make statements and therefore the government’s silence, is complicity.

The Canadian government has funded several NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) like the Justice Education Society that trains judges and prosecutors to improve their judicial skills and also Lawyers Without Borders. However, this funding was rather redundant as it was donated on a false pretense that monies would be used effectively. Yet it does not address the structural problems in the Honduran judicial system, linked to corrupt political will. Instead, the Canadian government should similarly follow the US government lead in exposing the corruption in the Juan Orlando government.

According to the Government of Canada website, “Canadian development initiatives in Honduras are aligned with the Government of Honduras’s priorities and with the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.” That means that any programs that provide fiscal assistance to Honduras are handled through the Honduran government.

The fact that Canadian elected officials cannot see that the funds being donated are not used as intended, this tells the Canadian people that our government is turning a blind eye to lawlessness and disregard for the Honduran people. Unfortunately, Hondurans do not see these funds as they are embezzled by government authorities. Are donations actually helping to trample the civil rights of the Honduran people? Can the Canadian government work with the structures that exist as they are run by a narco-drug state? Are our monies therefore funding illegal activities?

Prime Minister Trudeau stood up in Parliament and said that “Canada will stand for human rights anywhere in the world.” Here is our leader’s chance to make good on this statement.

The Role Honduran Women Play in Honduran Society to Fight Corruption
As International Women’s Day approaches on March 8, SCHRM would like to pay tribute to the Honduran women who have made a difference and those who continue to do so. March 3, 2021 is the five-year anniversary of the murder of indigenous Lenca leader Berta Caceres, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. She was assassinated in 2016 for her advocacy to stop an environmentally detrimental hydroelectric dam project on the Gualcarque River. Despite ‘investigations’ by the Honduran authorities, the intellectual authors of her murder have not been charged or even investigated. There is almost total impunity for the wealthy class in Honduras which continues to violate the laws, particularly those related to their business interests in the hydroelectric power and mining sector. See photo of Berta Caceres, courtesy of amnesty.ca.

We pay tribute to Prisila Alvarado of El Progreso and Maria Sanchez of Tegucigalpa. These women organize and operate the food programs that so many Simcoe County residents have donated to. Their dedication to the communities they serve is exemplary as they put their lives at risk to deliver food packages to the needy. They must pass military checkpoints and often are harassed under the pretense that food donations must only be carried out by ‘government agencies.’

Since March 2020 when the pandemic began, the committee members have been preparing meals to feed the children and elderly. As healthcare is non-existent in Honduras, they are at risk to contract COVID-19 as they work in close quarters. Committee members must also travel through areas that were hard-hit by the two November hurricanes. Many roads are still washed-out as government funding for road repairs is almost non-existent.

SCHRM pays tribute to the women in Honduras who have been murdered or disappeared. On February 7, 2021, 26-year-old nursing student Keyla Rodriguez was detained by military police for breaking a COVID curfew. She was later found dead in her cell. Her death is being treated as a homicide. Despite the outcry of the Honduran people and international human rights organizations, the police responsible for her murder have not been charged, or even investigated. Keyla is one of 29 women killed in Honduras so far this year. For further information on Keyla’s murder and police corruption, listen to Honduras Now Podcast Episode #17: Arming the bad guys: Keyla’s murder and police violence. This can be retrieved at: https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=honduras+now+podcast+episode+17

How can Canadians make change for Honduras?
SCHRM continues to meet with MPs to apprise them of the dire situation in Honduras and provide updates on Edwin and Raul’s case. Their trial is now scheduled for September 13-14; we must continue to advocate for their complete acquittal. Please contact your MP to express your concern and to encourage Canadian government authorities to take a stand on the abuses of power and human rights in Honduras.

SCHRM thanks you for your continued support. If you wish to donate to the ongoing grassroots food programs, please contact us at: 705-734-4238 or via email at: janetspring7@gmail.com.

Janet Spring and Christine Nugent for the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor

Canada’s Role in Honduras: Why are we supporting corruption in Latin America?Will the Biden Presidency Make Change in Honduras?Three Year Anniversary of Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor and Arrest of Edwin Espinal: Food Program Continues

Honduras is a country rich with natural resources such as gold, copper, iron ore, vast amounts of water, mountainous regions with flowing rivers, streams and lakes, beautiful birds, wildlife, an abundance of fish, both salt and freshwater seafood. The northern coastal area borders on the Caribbean Sea with beautiful beaches inhabited mostly by Garifuna communities that have lived there since the early 1800s. The eastern coastal areas are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean.

Karen Spring Honduras human rights defenders and Edwin Español who faces court hearing on trumped up charges in March.

To understand why the US and Canada, also a group of European countries are supporting the corrupt government of Honduras, it is important to investigate the wealth of opportunities above that Canadian and US companies are allowed to explore, expropriate and richly profit from. In our last article we outlined some of these companies that are operating there, making huge profits for shareholders. The Honduran people are at the mercy of companies that take advantage of their country. They are on their own to attempt to protect their lands and natural resources. Furthermore, they do not reap the benefits of resource extraction and manufacturing. In many cases the resource development is not environmentally sustainable.

Yet Honduras is ruled by an illegal corrupt narco-regime; President Juan Orlando Hernandez has been in power since 2014 and is known as being heavily involved in drug cartels. He and other ‘Presidents’ before him have been implicated in corruption, drug dealing, embezzlement, and most alarming, supported by the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Why are these governments, particularly Canada continuing to support and uphold this corruption? The answer is: “Honduras is open for business”, quoting President Hernandez in a statement made in 2018. He also remarked, “Our sustained economic growth and improvements in national security have opened up great opportunities for investors.”

This ‘open for business policy’, which has been going on much longer that 2018, back decades, marginalizes the Honduran population. According to Human Rights Watch, Honduras has the highest poverty level in Latin America. Over 66% live in extreme poverty, living on $1.91 or less per day, and worse in rural areas. Honduras also has the highest murder rate in the world; drug violence, extortion, poverty, and insecurity, and lately a health crisis and natural disasters, are forcing Hondurans to leave in desperation, joining migrant caravans to seek asylum in the US.

Canada’s Role in Honduras: Will our government feel pressure to make change? Ever since former Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed a free trade deal with then President Porfirio Lobo in 2011, Canadian mining, tourism, and textile companies have taken advantage of the loose laws in Honduras that allow them to abide only by Honduran law, instead of stricter Canadian laws at home. And in many cases, they act with impunity.

Perhaps bad press and accusations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies at home and abroad, prompted Prime Minister Trudeau to set up an ombudsperson to investigate unfair Canadian business practices. He promised to create the new ombudsperson’s office during the 2015 election campaign. After repeated delays and shenanigans, in January 2018, the Trudeau government publicly announced that a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) would be created to “conduct credible independent investigations, including the power to compel documents and summon witnesses” of Canadian companies that are accused of human rights abuses and unfair practices abroad.

Eighteen months ago, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) reported the Canadian government backtracked on their promise to provide an Ombudsperson with “necessary tools to conduct credible independent investigations, including the power to compel documents and summon witnesses.” Since government responsibility to follow through with the directives of CORE, to investigate violations perpetrated by Canadian corporations at home and abroad, was not implemented, “all fourteen civil society and labour union representatives of the government’s Mult-Stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct Abroad (Advisory Board) tendered their resignations. For more information on CORE and this fiasco, refer to: https://www.kairoscanada.org/what-we-do/ecological-justice/open4justice.

In other words, the government of Canada has not followed through with their own directive to make Canadian companies accountable for their actions and violations of human rights, despite the list of rules outlined in the Free Trade Agreement of 2011 with Honduras and the CORE program. The Canadian government has no teeth to make Canadian companies accountable at home, in Honduras, and other countries around the world. Canadians must therefore pressure leaders to act for human rights, particularly now when political policies are changing, hopefully for the better, south of the Canadian border.

Is there hope for Honduras? What will the Biden Presidency Change for Hondurans?
With the change in administration from Trump/Pence to Biden/Harris all eyes are on President Biden to address the US backed corruption issues that are occurring in Honduras. Although the issues are many in number, and exacerbated by Trump’s strict, inhumane border policies and practices, ICE raids, detention in extremely horrific ICE for profit jails, President Biden made campaign promises to address the root causes of Honduran migration. Now in office since January 20, 2021, the following outlines his plans for Honduras including El Salvador, and Guatemala.
U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021: President Biden has declared that over a four-year period, $4 billion will be spent to attempt to decrease poverty, violence, and corruption in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. He plans to create centres in these countries for those wishing to migrate to the US. Ian Kysel, Cornell Law Professor and Co-Director of the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic tells Time Magazine that “Going back decades, the U.S. Government has failed to adequately invest in making rights and human dignity the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the region—on migration or otherwise.” Kysel stresses that Biden’s plan is a step forward but investing in human rights issues is paramount to making positive change in Honduras so that people want to stay in their home country. In other words, put human rights first instead of economic wealth and exploitation.
Trump Border Wall: The erection of the border wall is a physical reminder to migrants that they are unwelcome and will be deterred by a barrier and military force if they attempt to enter the US. Trump’s $15 billion border wall construction has been put on ‘pause’ for two months by Joe Biden. Yet due to the devastation, local communities and environmentalists are advising that steps should be taken promptly to assess and rectify the environmental damage that has occurred, also address the issues of cultural sites that have been bulldozed and destroyed. The Guardian reports that 84 federal laws were suspended to allow for its construction. These must be reinstated by Biden.
Political Asylum: According to authorities, Biden plans to issue executive orders to halt those adopted by his predecessor that allowed for migrant caravans to be blocked along the route to the US border through Mexico. However just last week, 7000 Hondurans were blocked by Guatemalan forces as they attempted to travel northbound. They were teargassed, beaten, and harassed. Many were loaded back onto buses and sent back to their starting point in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Very few families were able to break through the military police barriers.

Biden plans to stop Trump’s MPP (Migrant Protection Protocol) that forces migrants to wait in Mexico in squalid, dangerous camps as their asylum claims are being processed. Yet no directives have been issued yet to assist those still waiting at the border. Biden’s new directive will hopefully allow for a higher number of immigrants to enter the US.
Children Separated from Parents at the Border: Biden proposes to create a commission to investigate the thousands of people who were separated from family members at the US border. Over 600 children are still in custody after taken from their parents. With a lack of identification and information gathered upon separation, and since many parents were deported to countries other than their homelands, the reuniting of these families is almost an impossible task.
DACA Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: Over 1.8 million people in the US are part of the DACA (Dreamers) program that allows children who came into the US illegally with their parents to remain in the US and work toward a path to citizenship. Under the Trump administration this program was to be abolished. One of Biden’s first executive orders was to reinstate all statutes of this program.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE: ICE was formed after 9/11 as a domestic force under the Department of Homeland Security to protect American citizens from terrorist groups. According to Judy Ancel of Cross-Border Networks, “ ICE … these domestic federal police have turned into a kind of Gestapo terrorizing our immigrant population; they knock on people’s doors and take them away and separate families … engaging in tremendous human rights violations.” Many human rights groups have demanded ICE be abolished. To date, Biden has been silent on the future of ICE.

Three-Year Anniversary of the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee: When Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez and others were arrested in January 2018 for speaking against the human rights violations occurring during the post-electoral crisis of 2017, our SCHRM committee was formed. On April 8, 2018, over 175 Springwater residents attended our first community meeting to be apprised of the conditions that led to Edwin’s and others’ arrests. The large group demanded that the Canadian government strongly advocate for their release and to investigate who the corporations are that violate human rights abroad (and at home) and what we could do to push the Canadian government to take action on both issues.

Since that meeting, many residents have voiced their viewpoints to federal, provincial, and municipal officials regardless of party affiliation. These concerns call for Canada to take a strong stand through foreign affairs, through the Ombudsperson office in defense of human rights and to cease appeasing narco-trafficking, corrupt governments like Honduras. Concerned citizens have called for our government to also reign in the power and control of global monopolies.

What type of foreign policy must Canada embrace? Can Canada trade with other countries based on mutual benefit and development and friendship amongst peoples to serve their well-being and security? Will the root causes of migration continue to be the topic in the news media until ours and neighbouring governments listen? SCHRM will continue to provide updated information to Canadians and make our political representatives accountable for the role Canada plays in the world.

SCHRM continues with great success to raise funds for food and provisions during this very difficult time. We thank the very generous donors who support the programs in Tegucigalpa and El Progreso. Karen, Edwin and Raul send their greetings from Tegucigalpa and thank you too for this support. They witness the gratification of the community members in person who receive the food packages and meals. See their latest photos attached.

Thank you again and stay safe.
Christine Nugent and Janet Spring for the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee

Support for Honduran Communities During Pandemic

SCHRM Springwater News article of August 6: Thanks to the Springwater and surrounding communities, the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor has donated approximately $5000 so far to the Honduras food programs in El Progreso and Tegucigalpa.
SPRINGWATER/MIDLAND/BARRIE AREA RESIDENTS SUPPORT HONDURAS COMMUNITIES
TINY ART SHACK TEAMS UP WITH LOCAL MACRAME ARTIST
HONDURAS NOW PODCAST
DISAPPEARED INDIGINOUS GARIFUNA LEADERS STILL MISSING

Springwater, Barrie and Midland Area Support
Over the past few weeks, local Springwater, Barrie, and Midland area residents have donated funds to support the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor’s (SCHRM) food program in Honduras. To date we have received over $4000 to send to Tegucigalpa and El Progreso food programs. As the reported COVID-19 cases have risen to over 45 000 and with lack of medical attention, hospital supplies and facilities, proper sanitation, and food, these communities have greatly benefitted from our donations. It is important to note that many deaths from COVID are not reported, particularly in poor neighbourhoods, where people cannot reach a hospital; some die in the street, waiting in line at the overcrowded hospital to be treated, or die at home. This brings attention to the need for food support.

The cost to feed a child one meal a day is $3 CDN. With your donations, many families and children particularly, have received nutritious meals. This grassroots program goes directly to the source of the need; receipts and photos are supplied for transparency. With so much attention on charity organizations in the news lately, SCHRM believes that full disclosure and transparency is vital and that those in need actually receive the benefits of donations from a grassroots perspective.

Barrie Children Raise Funds


SCHRM appreciates the initiative of a group of children from Barrie who raised $200 last weekend selling their homemade crafts. The children are connected to a local Barrie teacher who teaches a course on government policy and world affairs. His students focussed on Honduras last year when Edwin Espinal was in prison. When the children heard about the food program, they quickly went to work to make items to sell. SCHRM thanks Avery, Bethany, and Ryen for making their beautiful crafts and raising funds for the children in Honduras.

Elmvale Business Supports Honduran Families
The SCHRM appreciates the support of owner and operator Tina Breen from the TINY ART SHACK, Elmvale for her sponsorship of local macramé artist, Karen Spring. Tina is featuring Karen’s macramé projects in her store and on her website: http://www.thetinyartshack.com. The macramé wall hangings are made with Canadian-manufactured rope and driftwood found on the shores of Georgian Bay. These wall hangings are only available for a few more weeks as Karen plans to travel back to Honduras when flights resume in mid-August. All proceeds go to grassroots projects to help the Honduran people. Thank you, Tina, for your support of these very meaningful initiatives!

Support from Elmvale to Midland
SCHRM thanks local Midland human rights group, Peaceworks, for its attention to the Honduran food program. Committee chairperson Elizabeth O’Connor continues to spread the word about serious issues occurring in Honduras. Last year, Peaceworks sponsored a presentation made by Kathy Price of Amnesty Canada on the political prisoner situation and the Canadian involvement in the illegal tourism projects located on the northern coast around Tela Bay and Trujillo Bay.

Honduras Now! Podcast
Karen Spring has launched her Honduras Now! Podcast that shares human rights stories and connects them to global issues and US and Canadian policies. Her fifth episode will be published this week. Honduras Now offers “on the ground analysis from host, Karen Spring, a long-time human rights activist and researcher, and Hondurans from all walks of life through interviews and trips around the country.” To listen on your podcast app, go to redcircle.com-honduras- now-podcast. Karen begins her episode with a background on who she is, where she is from, and her work. In subsequent episodes, she provides details on the US and Canadian backed coup d’état of 2009, what the coup d’état means today, the covid-19 crisis, and the latest disappearances of four Afro-indigenous Garifuna leaders and its link to Canadian and international tourist projects.

Garifuna Leaders Still Missing
The disappearance of four Garifuna leaders of Saturday, July 18, 2020 occurred in Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. This act of terrorism by Honduran, heavily armed men, dressed in police uniforms, has terrorized the residents of the communities around this northern coastal area. Since these forced disappearances and kidnapping, the international community has demanded the Honduran government investigate these disappearances transparently and with diligence. The men are still missing and are presumed dead.

In a country with over 90% impunity, crimes against the people and raids carried out by the military police are almost never reported or legitimately investigated. Miriam Miranda, leader of the Garifuna organization OFRANEH, stated, “Since the coup, police and military have the freedom to do whatever they want.” This freedom includes stealing Garifuna land and murdering and/or disappearing leaders. This story has a Canadian twist as NJOI, a Canadian tourism company based in Newmarket, is under scrutiny for its illegal activities in the area. US Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and others in the US Congress and Senate been very vocal regarding the illegitimate and corrupt actions of the Honduran government since the coup d’état. They call on the US government to stop their support of the corrupt government of Juan Orlando Hernandez. Many Canadian government officials remain silent on this matter, except for our local federal, provincial, and municipal representatives who have spoken out. We greatly appreciate their continued attention to the issues in Honduras.

Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor thanks you for your continued support. If you wish to donate to our food programs or require further information, please email: janetspring7@gmail.com or phone: 705-734-4238.

Janet Spring and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee

Honduras Covid-19 Update from Edwin Espinal – published in Springwater News

SCHRM Supports Canadian Mining Affected Community

Unscrupulous Reputation for Canadian Companies in Honduras

Canadian Sweatshops Spreading COVID: Doctors Make Demands

Edwin Espinal, spouse of Karen Spring, sends greetings from Tegucigalpa Honduras. Edwin talks about the situation in his neighbourhood today as Hondurans experience harsh conditions due to COVID-19, corruption, and inflexible government restrictions.

Describe the situation in the country during this COVID crisis.

Edwin: The COVID situation is not under control because of the government’s criminal behaviour. As Hondurans we are really upset with the inaction of our government that only cares for the rich. The Hernandez government does not provide proper healthcare and social conditions to Hondurans yet is supported by the US and Canadian government. The people are getting very sick from this pandemic; medical supplies are scarce or non-existent in the public hospitals. If a person gets sick and must visit the hospital, family members must provide a cot or chair to fit into the limited space they are given. Family members must buy all supplies and bring them in for their loved one, as there are no oxygen tanks or medications provided. Doctors are overworked, nurses cannot keep up with the sick and dying. The number of cases is skyrocketing with thousands of new reported cases every day. Many go unreported as people are afraid to visit the hospitals or cannot afford to go. They die at home.

COVID-19 is mostly rampant in the poor neighbourhoods as people live in close quarters with many family members living together. They must go out to do their own shopping in crowded streets as the population is very high in these neighbourhoods. In the richer parts of the city, there is more freedom. The middle and upper class employ workers, paying way below minimum wage; they send their underpaid workers into the streets to do their shopping and perform other duties. The rich people are therefore not exposed to the pandemic as are their employees. They are also taking advantage of the poor because jobs are now practically non-existent. The rich are following their typical pattern of not caring for anyone except themselves during this pandemic in this country.

Tell about the government control in the streets.

Edwin: When I travel through the streets, I see repression. Military and police harass the poor. The government has very strict rules to lock the people in their houses. They are only allowed out in the streets once every two weeks and many people cannot get all of the tasks completed due to long lineups, food and staples shortages. They cannot complete their shopping, banking, medical appointments in one day so they must break the rules. They also cannot afford to buy ahead, and supplies are limited. So, if the people go out into the streets, the military confiscate their cars, arrest them and hold them for 24 hours. They are forced to pay heavy fines, or they are not released.  

During the day and night, helicopters patrol the skies, keeping a watch over the people. Police and military are very active, brutalizing small groups of people and teargassing them in the overcrowded neighbourhoods. There is no fairness or justice here. We are watched and monitored at all times.

Talk about the food shortages.

Edwin: In terms of food programs, the government is only providing food to the people who vote for the National Party. The government is using the COVID-19 pandemic for their own political gain and not providing for all of the people. This is immoral and inhumane because people are starving. There are no jobs and also private companies (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Little Caesar, Denny’s, etc.) are exploiting their workers, not paying wages, benefits, as required by law. They are taking advantage of their employees and using the pandemic as an excuse.

We thank the Simcoe County community for their ongoing support. We are encouraged by your interest in our lives because your encouragement gives us hope.

Community of Simcoe Supports Hondurans

SCHRM continues to send funds to food distribution community projects located in El Progreso and Tegucigalpa. We have also received a new request for monies for food donations from the northern community of Azacualpa in the Department of Copan, close to the Guatemalan border. This community is fighting the expansion of a Canadian gold mining company, Aura Minerals, based in Toronto, Ontario. Unfair mining practices and military control by this company has left the community very vulnerable and at the mercy of Aura Minerals policy makers and shareholders. This company trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).

The Azacualpa community is desperate for food as the area is controlled by the mining company; stores are owned by Aura and are price controlled. Supplies are scare due to its remoteness; the nearest bank and larger grocery stores are 2-3 hours away by truck along mountainous dirt roads. SCHRM is sending donations to help feed the most impoverished families here who can only leave their homes once every 14 days based on their government issued ID number. SCHRM also continues to send monies to El Progreso and Tegucigalpa organizers for the very important food programs there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Unscrupulous behaviour from Canadian mining company

Aura Minerals has been under scrutiny and attack from Canadian and US human rights organizations for digging up the Azacualpa community cemetery. This struggle has been ongoing since 2010 when the community first reached out for help to stop the expansion of the mine which would jeopardize their ancestral burial site, their villages, and their health. The community members are fiercely against the actions of Aura Minerals, which has turned their countryside into an open pit. At the gold mining site and surrounding area, the open pit, cyanide-leaching mine causes severe health related issues; it poisons the land, cuts down their forests, and their water sources. This has been well documented and found to be true. Canadian companies such as Aura Minerals follow unscrupulous practices and take advantage of government corruption to prosper in countries such as Honduras. Actions by this company are showing Canada in a very bad light on the international stage. Their Honduran mining practices are prohibited in Canada.

Today Aura Minerals is digging up the cemetery area and illegally exhuming bodies, despite opposition from the Azacualpa community. For further information, refer to a 2016 video produced by Toronto-based Rights Action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1uY6E6zs7Q and an article retrieved at: https://www.unitedforminingjustice.com/single-post/2018/02/26/Not-Worth-the-Dirt-Theyre-Buried-In-Canadas-Aura-Minerals-continues-to-dig-up-the-dead-to-get-a-gold-in-Honduras

Continue reading “Honduras Covid-19 Update from Edwin Espinal – published in Springwater News”

New Podcast Launched

https://redcircle.com/shows/honduras-now-podcast

Honduras Now Podcast

The Honduras Now Podcast shares human rights stories and connects them to global issues and North American policy. Honduras Now provides on-the-ground analysis from host, Karen Spring, a long-time human rights activist and researcher, and Hondurans from all walks of life through interviews and trips around the country. 

https://redcircle.com/shows/honduras-now-podcast

The COVID-19 Pandemic in Honduras: Community Leaders Make a Difference

The COVID-19 Pandemic in Honduras: Community Leaders Make a Difference

Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Donates to Local Food Programs

As of June 8, 2020, the reported cases of COVID-19 in Honduras has reached 6327 with only 258 deaths reported. However, health officials and local residents warn that these statistics are most likely much higher as testing for the virus is almost non-existent and many deaths are not reported or recorded. Deaths due to COVID in the rural areas go unnoticed by government officials. Many also believe that the Hernandez government does not report up to date statistics as people have little or no faith in the government authorities to care about the needs of the Honduran people.

According to www.globalnews.ca, Latin American countries will experience a surge in COVID cases and deaths in the coming weeks and months. In Honduras, without a proper health care system and lack of government assistance, community leaders have established food programs to help hungry families and have reached out to the neediest children who are feeling the effects of the pandemic on a much greater scale than those in North America.

In Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, over nine community organizations have joined together in solidarity in the time of COVID-19 to help the hungry. To date, community leaders have delivered over 250 bags of food to the neediest families in Tegucigalpa neighbourhoods and villages surrounding the city. One community organizer remarks, “The situation is serious. Families are hungry; many have no income due to COVID-19 closures as some stores and companies have shut down; there are also restrictions on work as people are turned away at military checkpoints trying to get to their jobs. Shopping for food is difficult because a family member is only allowed out twice a month not only to purchase necessities but to do their banking and other chores. For those who have lost their jobs or the military have shut down their vendor stands, there is no money to buy the necessities. There are government food assistance programs but these only look after the people who vote for the party in power – the National Party under the military dictator – Juan Orlando Hernandez.”

Thoe food outreach program is very important but difficult to plan, manage, and implement. As community leaders can only go out twice a month to purchase necessities for the program as well as themselves, they must coordinate with other leaders to pick up food supplies, sort, weigh, then distribute the packages. Rice, beans, flour for tortillas, cooking oil, eggs, vegetables, and non-foodstuff items like soap and detergent make up the packages.

In some areas where the military presence is heavy, leaders are afraid to carry too many packages in their vehicles when they deliver in the communities. Some have been stopped at military checkpoints and the packages have been confiscated by the military. Officers taking the food state that only the government has the authority to deliver food to communities. It is therefore precarious volunteer work, as many have not only been angered and belittled by this injustice, but also harassed by the military and others have been threatened with arrest.

In northern city of El Progreso, a group of local women have founded an organization to help to feed the hungry children of the city and surrounding rural areas. Their first step was to clear a small lot, clean the brush away, then build an artisan stove to cook the meals. In another area, the women cleaned an empty shed to house the program. Their goal is to provide one good meal per day for impoverished children who may go hungry otherwise.

 

The organizers face similar hardships to purchase foodstuffs, sort, then deliver to the cooking areas as the program in Tegucigalpa. With military checkpoints throughout the city and in the rural areas, they face persecution or arrest if they are caught in the streets or in the stores if their ID card numbers do not match the numbers of those who are permitted out for that day. They also worry that the food will be confiscated. Like their counterparts in Tegucigalpa they are afraid to carry too much food at once.

Donations from local Honduran and international organizations are hard to obtain as these are grassroot community members trying to make a difference in an emergency situation. One organizer from the Tegucigalpa program stated that without the support of our community through the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor funds, they would not have the monies to operate. This week, SCHRM is sending an additional $1800 CDN for the two programs. To ensure transparency, we receive receipts and photos for all purchases made

The SCHRM thanks all community members for their continued support and to those who have donated funds for this very important food program. If you wish to donate or to obtain further information on these programs, email at: janetspring7@gmail.com or phone: 705-734-4238.

It is heartwarming to know that all monies go directly to the children and families who need assistance the most and that the community members in the severely impoverished neighbourhoods in the cities and rural areas donate their time and energy to keep these very needed programs alive.

Thank you.

Janet Spring and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee

Update – Two Springwater News Reports on Honduras and COVID -19.

APRIL 27 2020

Edwin Espinal Speaks of Human Rights Violations Amid the COVID Crisis in Honduras

Hunger in the Streets: Handing out Food Packages to Needy Families

Since President Juan Orlando Hernandez shut the country down on March 15, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people in Honduras are suffering from extreme repression, lack of government transparency, hunger, fear of the military, and widespread unemployment. Edwin talked to me on Sunday evening as he was cooking his dinner, a typical Honduran supper of beans, eggs, avocado, and tortillas. He had just returned from two neighbourhoods where he was delivering food to families in need. Monies were donated by the Honduras social movements to purchase these food staples. I asked Edwin these questions:

What is Honduras like now?

Edwin explained that the people are desperate; some are out in the streets protesting the COVID-19 situation as they face an extreme food and water shortage. Edwin answered.

A lot of people want to protest the Honduran government for not dealing with the crisis in a very human way, respecting human rights of the people. People are starving, there is very little water and what little amount available is not for drinking. Food supplies are scarce. It’s very bad here. So, tomorrow [Sunday] there will be a protest in the streets of Tegucigalpa because the people have nowhere else to turn. But the police and military are very violent toward the people who are asking for food. It is very sad. Families line the streets with signs hoping that people passing by in their cars will give them help. Every time people go out into the streets specifically asking for food, the military use sticks to hit them with blunt force. The military killed a very young man. They beat him up because he wasn’t wearing a mask at a check point – beat him up so badly he died. And there was no follow-up. At the military check points, which are all over the country, the military stop people and sometimes arrest them, beat them, or worse, kill them. It is senseless and desperate here.

How are the people experiencing the COVID restrictions?

This government has not been transparent at all regarding the numbers of confirmed cases. The way they are handling it is very inhumane. They don’t let people know of their own COVID-19 test results when they are tested. They just put them in the hospital and let them die. The authorities just bury them and don’t let the families know of the funeral plans. They also don’t let family members know of the results if they died of COVID or some other ailment – so they have no proof of what happened.

The government doesn’t have any credibility. The doctors were talking about the lack of medical supplies and medical facilities at the beginning of the COVID outbreak, but the government came in and fired any doctors who spoke out against the issues in the hospitals. They replace anyone who speaks out if they don’t follow what the president says. The president manages the numbers – the information.  This is a pure dictatorship.

What are people’s perspectives on the military in the streets?

There are more police and military in the streets than during the electoral crisis of 2017 and 2018. There are no jobs and the government is not creating these for the people or even allowing them to sell food on the streets at this time. Due to the lack of employment, which is a regular terrible situation here, more young people try to get a job in the military and the police. The excessive number of the armed forces – the local police, military police, and the special task forces in the prisons –keep Juan Orlando Hernandez in power. We need food, jobs, health care, not a disproportionate military presence! The US and Canadian governments also keep JOH in power. If they pulled their support, this government would fail.

The people are so upset with the government that has a campaign to make people stay in their homes, but the government must help the starving people by supplying food so that they can obey the restrictions. The people understand the need to isolate, but the government is not doing anything. The people have no choice now, so they are disobeying the rules because they are starving. When the military arrest the people for being out in the streets looking for food, they detain them and make them work. And they don’t provide them with security measures; they put them all together in one place with no protection. It’s very, very irresponsible, the way this government is handling the COVID-19 crisis. People are desperate and feel that the situation is hopeless.

How do the Honduran people feel about the aid to Honduras the Trump administration and others have provided?

The people hear these groups are sending aid for COVID – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the United States Trump Administration. For example, USAID is sending funds to provide financial help, but the people are not receiving it. The government is using it for themselves; not a penny is getting into the people’s hands or into the programs that are needed. The president stopped all commercial activities and jobs without any warning in March even before there were any COVID cases here. There was no time given for people to prepare for isolation. They had no money (the banks shut down) and they had no extra food at that moment, so not giving any warning was irresponsible, especially with the extra militarization in the streets.

The water supply is very limited – it hasn’t rained for a long time. There are also a lot of forest fires around the city and it’s a strategy from the government to keep us inside. We are not just facing COVID, we also are facing lack of water, the corruption in the government, zero transparency, and the way the government is using the crisis to repress the people further.

People are only allowed once a week to go out for food and supplies. But not everyone has the availability to buy food because they don’t have income, so they beg for food. They have an ID number and each person has a day that is allotted to them. But some are still forced to work in the sweat shops for 12 hours per day. They can’t get out to get food on their day if they are working. So they are in danger if they go out.

The government only favours the people who vote for the National Party (Juan Orlando Hernandez) when it comes to food subsidies. It gives out food bags to only those who support JOH. The ID card provides the government with a number; they have a list of the people who support the National Party. They deliver the food only to the people on the list.

The ability to social distance is difficult. The houses are very close together; many have no glass in their windows and some families often share their homes with relatives. It is very crowded in the neighbourhoods. At the checkpoints, the military beat people up who are in a group. They detain them, they torture them by making them do push-ups until they break. This practice is against human rights decrees.

Many people have been laid off with no assistance at all. Some companies like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King, laid off people without any benefits, which is against Honduran law. The law is not enforced. If people are sick, they are still expected to show up for work. If they don’t, they are fired.  

Tell me about your experiences handing out food.

Social movement organizations bought the food, split them into portions, and put them in plastic bags. We contacted people in different neighbourhoods to find out who needs food. The resistance movements in each community have a list of the needy. There aren’t many available food packages, so they have to decide who needs them the most.

Raul Alvarez and I, and many others, work in our neighbourhoods to drop off the bags of food. Each bag contains small amounts and weighs about 10 lbs. In each is a small amount of rice, oatmeal, cooking oil, flour, beans, the essential things to make a Honduran meal.  A lot of people in different neighbourhood are still selling vegetables and fruit, because that’s the only way they can work; they take chances to go out into the city to buy products so they can sell them in the streets. It is a very important informal business in Honduras for both the small business owners and for those who rely on the availability to buy the products.  

But Raul and I are very careful when we deliver food. We are only allowed to go out once a week, so it is very restrictive and dangerous for those who wish to volunteer.

I have to say that the human rights violations are getting worse every day. A lot of people are injured by bullets, tear gas, and beatings. In every town and city across the country, people are starving. It is really sad to see people with signs asking for help. I have never ever seen anything like it in my life. It is very discouraging. It is very upsetting. So much uncertainty, fear, and desperation!

I thank the Simcoe County community for your ongoing interest in our welfare. As many of you know, my spouse, Karen Spring is at home in Canada. She is waiting to travel back to Honduras as she was visiting her family when JOH shut the borders without warning. Karen is returning when the flights to Honduras resume. I worry about her safety when she travels to Honduras.

Edwin Espinal, Janet Spring, and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Committee

APRIL 13 2020

Reality in Honduras During the Pandemic
Canadian and US Sweatshops’ Unfair Demands on Workers
Wildfires in Tegucigalpa
Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez’ Trial Dates

The global pandemic has hit almost every corner of the world. The response by different countries
is dependent on so many factors as is the ability for people to withstand the impacts and effects.
Unfortunately, given the great income inequality in our world, some countries especially nations of the “Global South” are hit much harder. Honduras is definitely one of these countries, but Honduras is still in a different coronavirus epidemic moment than in Canada where the virus and infection rate hit sooner.
As of April 13, 2020, there are reports of 398 cases of COVID19 in Honduras. The Juan Orlando
Hernandez government has reported only 24 deaths but a director of one of the largest public hospitals in the country openly announced there are many more (at least 38 in his hospital alone). Many health care professionals are accusing the government of incorrect reporting. This is fuelling the people’s continued
lack of trust in the government. Many Hondurans, including healthcare workers, continue to call into question the government’s overall legitimacy and ability and will to respond effectively.
An absolute lock-down of the country continues to at least April 12 and many constitutional rights
remain suspended. The border remains closed. Almost every day, Honduras in different parts of the country are going into the streets, defying the lock-down, starting fires in the middle of the roads to demand the government provide them with food and basic supplies. Over 60% of Honduras live in
poverty and almost half in extreme poverty. Since many are unable to work, the general population is going hungry and simply cannot stay in their homes. As virus infection rates grow, a severe life-and-death
situation and crisis is almost inevitable.
Food aid that has been promised by the government is unfortunately being politicized and only being handed out to people on the National Party’s voting roster. This is the equivalent of Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau only providing Covid-19 support to people that vote for the Liberal Party! It most certainly is not an effective way of gaining confidence in the authorities, let alone ensuring that supplies and help are reaching those whose need is the greatest. Many of the protests during the lock-down denounce this
politicization and several respected figures including even a high-level military official – who was lately
fired for making such a statement – have publicly called on the government to stop politicizing food aid.
Sweatshop Workers at Risk: Unfair US and Canadian Workplace Policies
Many North American companies with apparel factories or sweatshops in Honduras including
U.S. company Hanes and Delta Apparel, and automotive parts Empire Electronics, and Canada’s Montreal-based Gildan Activewear are either not abiding by the lock-down or putting their workers in
difficult situations. Some companies including Canada’s Gildan Activewear initially called all their workers to work despite being told by the government that people should remain in their homes. For
workers that wanted and needed to continue working, they had to leave their houses and risk arrest while
passing through military checkpoints en route to their workplaces in the factories. The Honduran media reported last week that over 6,000 people had been arrested for defying curfew – among them, many
North American sweatshop workers.
Most North American sweatshop companies in Honduras are scattered in and around the large, industrial department of Cortes in northern Honduras. Unfortunately, Cortes is the epicentre of the Covid-
19 outbreaks in Honduras where the majority of cases in the country are located. There are reports of least 3 people that work in North American sweatshops have died from COVID-19. One of the deceased was a physician that worked in Gildan’s factory. The death of the medical worker is generating a great amount
of fear as many factories that remain open are infection pools.
Workers that put themselves at risk and go to work complained that the US and Canadian-owned companies are not providing basic protection equipment. Other companies are firing anyone – even those
with permanent work contracts – that do not show up and then replacing them with temporary workers that receive no health benefits. Gildan recently announced that it will be shutting down operations for
months, putting many sweatshop workers – the majority poor single mothers from rural areas that migrate
to the sweatshop cities seeking employment – without any source of income, health benefits, or means to support their families.
In the best of circumstances, sweatshop workers are constantly fighting for these large companies to abide by the law that is constantly violated to the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. It is these types
of companies that seek economic support from our government to “bounce back” from the crisis but

abandon the commitments to their workers when they need support the most.
Wildfires Surround Tegucigalpa
On top of the health crisis in Honduras, the residents of the capital – Tegucigalpa – and those in the countryside watch how the wildfires in the mountains surrounding the city continue to burn and spread to marginalized farming and residential communities. The flames at night light up the sky and by day smoke is in the air. Since it is early summer, normal daily temperatures rise to 35 degrees Celsius.
Fires intensify due to the lack of rain and also an extreme shortage of water that has ravaged many parts of Honduras.
Environmental crises such as the wildfires exacerbate the situation as many are struggling to cope
with health issues related to the lack of healthcare, supplies, food, and unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since water is scarce, washing hands is impossible unless water is found, then stored in large metal barrels but standing water encourages mosquitoes, which are carriers of dengue fever. Hand sanitizer, cleaning fluid, bleach, detergent, and disinfect liquids that help control sanitation
levels are difficult to find or non-existent in some remote, poor areas.
Edwin and Raul’s Trial Dates
Edwin and Raul’s trial continues to be scheduled for May 14 and 15th but Honduran courts and the judicial system has been shut down since March 15. We do not know what will happen with the trial
including when the courts will re-open and if all trials that have been missed as a result of the lock-down will be rescheduled.
We are fearful that the crisis could provide cover for the government to justify an unfair decision related to Edwin and Raul’s trial. This may include keeping the original trial date but imposing several
restrictions including refusing to allow human rights observers to attend or even conducting the trial virtually (which is something that is being implemented in Honduras even before the pandemic outbreak).
If Honduras keeps its borders closed, Karen may not be able to get back if the trial date remains as is.
Edwin, Raul, and all other political prisoners that have been conditionally released have not been able to go to the courts to sign on a weekly basis to indicate that they have not fled and remain ready to
appear for their trial. Although we have been told by several Honduran lawyers that they do not need to go to the court to sign the ledger given the exceptional lock-down order, we know the total lack of the
rule of law in Honduras means anything can be justified!
The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor thanks our supporters who continue to send best wishes, and regular inquiries as to the situation in Honduras. We wish our community at large to be safe
and healthy during this time of crisis!
Janet Spring, Karen Spring, and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee

Update from Tegucigalpa Honduras :Facts Why Another Caravan Has Left on January 31, 2020Facts Why Another Caravan Has Left on January 31, 2020

I am writing this update from Tegucigalpa Honduras, where I am with Karen and Edwin for ten days. We are spending the extended week visiting, catching up with family, visiting Raul Alvarez, attending a meeting with the Committee for the Freedom of Political Prisoners, and planning our May delegation.

As Edwin and Raul Alvarez’ trial date of May 14 -15 approaches, I am meeting with people this week to plan our Canadian delegation around the trial dates. We are looking forward to providing the Canadian delegates with an informative trip to Tegucigalpa, where we will attend the trial, meet with Canadian and U.S. Embassy staff, and visit with international and Honduran human rights organizations that support the Honduran people, and specifically, the political prisoners.

Yesterday we traveled to the north of Honduras to attend a meeting with COPINH (Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) regarding the case of murdered indigenous activist Berta Caceres. Despite the arrest and conviction of Berta’s assassins, the masterminds behind her murder have still not been arrested and brought to justice. These suspects hold high positions in the Honduran military and are executives in a company that has business interests related to the building of a dam in Western Honduras. International and Honduran human rights organizations are still demanding that the masterminds be charged and convicted of her 2016 murder.

On our way back to Tegucigalpa, we stopped in Comayagua to visit the historic Immaculate Conception Cathedral, built in 1634, which houses the oldest church clock in the world. This city is a Honduran landmark, known throughout the world for its Spanish colonial architecture. Comayagua is also the site of a new international airport, to be completed in the next two years. It is being built on the site of the largest U.S. military base in Central America, the Palmerola U.S. Military Base.

During this visit I have not yet seen any protests. In the streets the protests are small as compared to those that occurred after the November 2017 election and last year during the anti- privatization protests.

I asked why people are not out in the streets as frequently as has been the case on my many previous visits to Honduras. I received the answer that they are afraid to protest. Even though the President’s brother Tony Hernandez was convicted of 4 counts of drug trafficking and other offenses and Juan Orlando Hernandez has been implicated and named as co-conspirator #4 in the same New York court, he remains in power. The U.S. and Canadian governments still are doing business as usual in this country and are propping up this illegal narco-state.

The only choice the Honduran people have now to escape this repressive government’s policies and impunity, extreme poverty, lack of employment, gang violence, drug wars, and extortion by gangs, is to flee the country. This weekend, another large group of people gathered in San Pedro Sula to join a caravan to leave for the U.S. and Mexico border to seek asylum. Many were recently deported from Guatemala or Mexico by the U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, yet they are trying to escape again to make the arduous trip by taking another route. The following provides a background on the issues that force them to flee.

Facts Why Hondurans Flee

Living Expenses

Many Hondurans cite living expenses, unemployment, and other economic reasons for why they must flee the country. Most Hondurans work for a minimum wage ($330 USD per month – salaries paid by Canadian and U.S. sweat shops just make this minimum) or less, which is not enough to buy a basic food basket ($335 U.S.) to satisfy a 2200 calorie diet per family member per month. Many private companies do not abide by the unenforced labour law; over half of the population does not make minimum wage.

If a family own a car, they pay gas prices equal to rates in California, which are the second highest state rates in the U.S. If they own a car or not, bus tickets have risen significantly; either way they are impacted. Energy prices have risen over 40% since 2018, which also makes living expenses unaffordable. Water is expensive as privatization has driven this cost up significantly. Proper running water is a luxury for many Hondurans.

Education and Healthcare

The government invests little in public education and healthcare; these services are moving toward privatization. Hondurans must pay out of pocket for basic healthcare and education. There are no supplies and few medications provided in the hospitals; this crisis has worsened dramatically in the last 5 years. In order to be served by a physician, patients are expected to purchase all materials and medications. Long lines and wait times at the public hospitals are a major problem. Private hospitals are financially out of reach for most Hondurans.

In education, user fees are increasing. Parents must pay for registration, mandatory uniforms, books, sometimes desks, and salaries of custodians and security guards. Students learn in compromised environments where school infrastructures at all levels – elementary, high school, public universities – are in desperate conditions. Most Hondurans cannot consider sending students to private schools or universities.

Public Safety

Despite millions of dollars of aid from the Canadian, U.S. and European Union governments to improve security and address the judicial delays and impunity rates, Honduras is more dangerous for its citizens. Many Hondurans that flee the country will talk about the insecurity and their deep mistrust of state security forces, the lack of action by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the justice system to investigate, prosecute, and bring perpetrators of crime to justice. Honduras has the third highest murder rate in the world and 90% of crimes go unpunished; it is even higher against human rights defenders at a rate of 97%.

Many Hondurans fear the targeted massacres that are occurring frequently. These are violent assassinations of 3 or more people in one incident. In 2019, there were 70 massacres involving 281 victims, the majority were young people. In the first 2 days of January 2020, 21 people were killed. In the first 15 days of January 2020, 15 women were killed.

Corruption and Drug Trafficking

This issue is one of the most detrimental for safety and sustainability in Honduras. Millions stolen from Honduran state institutions go to government officials and their family members. The New York Southern District court labelled this corruption through drug trafficking as “state-sponsored drug trafficking.” One Honduran anti-corruption state body reported that the Honduran government loses $480 million from corruption per year, monies that could fund social programs including healthcare, education, and other programs to benefit the country’s poor and reduce the push factors that cause mass migration.

Human Rights

The human rights situation in Honduras has continued to worsen, particularly since the 2009 military coup. Journalists, lawyers, students, small farmers, Afro-indigenous Garifuna peoples, and many individuals critical of the government are targeted for speaking the truth, challenging the interests of the rich and powerful, and defending their territories. Hondurans that stay in the country to fight for true democracy and deep structural change like Edwin and Raul, must confront repression, criminalization, assassinations, threats, and imprisonment. But many are now too frightened to protest or speak out, hence their only recourse is to join mass caravans to flee. If Canada and the U.S. continue to support this Honduran state and the U.S. does not change its policies in Honduras, the people will use this only opportunity to find a way to survive. This is how desperate Hondurans are to escape.

For a more detailed account of the factors that cause Hondurans to migrate and references to the above information, please refer to: http://www.aquiabajo.com/blog

We greatly appreciate your continued support of the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor’s work in Honduras.

Janet Spring, Karen Spring, and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee

December Riots and Massacres in Honduran Prisons

Honduras Update by Karen Spring

December Riots and Massacres in Honduran Prisons

Moving Forward in 2020

Looking Back One Year

This time last year, I was busy making a lot of food, packing it into styrofoam food containers, strategically placing them into clear large plastic bags, and nervously driving to La Tolva prison.  On Christmas Day of 2018, I waited 4.5 hours in the hot sun to get into the jail to see Edwin and Raul. Edwin’s family and I stood in a long line with hundreds of other family members just to have a 2-hour visit. Once inside, we stood because there were no places to sit but were happy to spend the 24th with Edwin and Raul and try and lift their spirits. I had a similar experience when I visited La Tolva on New Year’s Day. This year, I am so relieved that Edwin and Raul are home with us to celebrate this holiday season. I am also glad that I, and others, are not having to spend countless hours at the prison and being constantly worried about their health and safety.

December 2019: Massacres and Riots in Honduran Prisons
This holiday season in Honduras was anything but festive and exciting for family members of the over 21,000 prisoners in Honduran jails. In fact, it’s a terrifying time for prisoners and their families as there have been at least 40 prisoners killed in 3 separate massacres inside the prisons in December 2019 alone. On December 14, 5 prisoners were killed inside La Tolva prison where Edwin and Raul were held for 1.5 years. On December 20, another riot broke out in a prison in the northern city of Tela where the only female political prisoner was held for 4 months in 2018. 19 people died and over a dozen people were injured. Some of the injured are still fighting for their lives in the poor public hospital conditions in Honduras. Less than 48 hours later, another riot broke out in a US-style prison located 1.5 hours north of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, killing 18 people and injuring over 16.
 

Once the news hits the media about the massacres or riots, families are given no special treatment in terms of access to information. I can remember the panic, fear, and anxiety associated with knowing people had died inside La Tolva prison due to a riot in September 2018 and not knowing for over 12 hours if Edwin and Raul were among the dead or the injured. After the news of the killing of 5 inside La Tolva hit the media in September 2018, I jumped into my car, drove to the public hospital where the media mentioned that the injured would be taken, and stayed outside the emergency room waiting for news. Since the morgue is close to the hospital in Tegucigalpa, I went between the morgue and the hospital for several hours waiting to see if someone could give me information: prison guards, forensic doctors … anyone. There were several family members that did the same.

But this year for family members is different. Shortly after the massacre on December 14, President Juan Orlando Hernandez ordered the military to take over the prison system. A national emergency in the Honduran prison system was declared and a special decree was passed that handed over control to the military. The New York Times, the Associated Press and even Toronto’s CP24, reported the national emergency. It was one of the few times that Honduras was mentioned in the international or Canadian news.



Of course, the militarization did nothing to stop the two subsequent massacres that occurred after the intervention. To many people in Canada, sending the military in to control a difficult situation may sound like a reasonable response, but in Honduras, most people including human rights organizations, sound the alarm. For years, President JOH has used the military to intervene in various public institutions with little or even worse impact on the issue that the military control is allegedly intended to get a handle on.

A national emergency in the Honduran prison system was declared and a special decree was passed that handed over control to the military.

Speculation on the Reasons Behind Prison Violence

Prominent Jesuit religious leader Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno told the Honduran press that the problem is the criminal structure of the government and President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the criminal leader leading the policies of terror and death. Many people have alleged that the gangs controlling the prisons simply take orders from their bosses, including individuals in the highest levels of the government. This sounds unbelievable to those reading about the situation from outside of Honduras but there have been several cases where young gang members that strictly abide by the hierarchical structure of the criminal organization they work for, carry out assassinations in exchange for payment or internal respect from gang leaders. In Honduras, organized criminal organizations are often more organized than the government itself and operate largely with total impunity.

This is also not the first time that President JOH has sent the military to control the prisons. In November 2018, a special military force took over all security check points including the advanced technology of body scanners to control what goes in and out of the prison. I was subjected to a body scanner every time I went into La Tolva then had to be physically patted down by a military soldier in a private room. Many ask, if the military was controlling all entrances and exits of the prisons, how were all the massacres and other deaths inside the prisons committed by guns? … the answer is obvious. There is no security for anyone in any country if corruption reigns and goes unpunished.

Another theory as to why the massacres and riots are happening has to do with the ‘politics of distraction.’ Some in Honduras believe that President JOH is trying to distract the population and international community from two killings inside the maximum-security prisons on October 25 and 26, 2019. Two people with key information and physical evidence that implicated JOH in drug trafficking were violently killed by gang members. Both would have been important and potentially key witnesses for the case in the New York Southern District court where JOH and other Honduran politicians are named as co-conspirators. I posted the two videos of these murders and their context on my blog if people are interested in more information. They can be found at www.aquiabajo.com/blog.
 

Moving Forward
As we begin a new decade in 2020, I will be busy working with the various legal teams getting everything ready for the trials of all political prisoners. We hope that all will be acquitted and all phony trumped up charges are dropped but we know that the fight won’t be easy.

The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee will be traveling to Ottawa to meet with new Members of Parliament when the House resumes in late January. We will be advocating for support for the Honduran people and urging the new government to take a stand on human rights. SCHRM is also planning a Canadian delegation to Honduras in May of 2020 at the time of Edwin and Raul’s trial.

In New York on January 17th, Tony Hernandez, the brother of President Hernandez will be sentenced after being found guilty on four charges of drug trafficking, also lying to federal prosecutors. He is facing the possibility of various life sentences. The Honduran people will be watching the outcome of sentencing and how this will further impact the Honduran president’s position as he was named CC4 – co-conspirator 4 in the trial.


Thank you so much for your support in 2019. We could not have done it without the community of Elmvale and the greater Simcoe County area and beyond. A very Happy New Year from Edwin and I!

Karen Spring
Tegucigalpa, Honduras