Witness for Peace http://witnessforpeace.org Supporting Peace, Justice, and Sustainable Economies in the Americas Fri, 20 Oct 2017 20:16:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 http://witnessforpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/WFPsquare-150x150.jpg Witness for Peace http://witnessforpeace.org 32 32 U.S. Pressure for Forcible Eradication a Factor in Tragic event in Tumaco, Colombia http://witnessforpeace.org/u-s-pressure-for-forcible-eradication-a-factor-in-tragic-event-in-tumaco-colombia/ Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:58:58 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=4280/

                  Photo Source: El Espectador

The deaths of at least 6 rural farmers in Tumaco, Colombia on Thursday, October 5th showed yet again the high cost in human lives and human rights of the “War on Drugs” and its militarized approach. More than 200 rural farmers, or campesinos, were gathered to impede forcible eradication of the coca plants when the National police shot at the large crowd wounding a reported 20 people and killing at least 6, very possibly more. Due to lack of a distribution infrastructure for other crops and absence of the rule of law, coca is the local population’s only realistic option for making a living. Accounts by the Colombian authorities claim that police and soldiers opened fire after FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) dissidents launched cylinder bombs at the crowd. However, first-hand accounts by the community indicate that the Colombian National Police opened fire indiscriminately into the crowd. The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, supports the claims made by the security forces, despite evidence and local sources accounts.

The National Police’s actions were brought into question again for shooting at human rights defenders and As part of a verification mission on Sunday, October 8th, a brigade of national and international human rights organizations including Justapaz, Justicia y Paz, the UN, and OAS gathered in Tandil, a place near where the massacre had taken place. According to a denouncement by Justapaz, when members of the delegation approached the area where a possible cadaver laid from the incident, they were shot at by the National Police. Vice President and former National Police head Naranjo has said publically that the police acted improperly, and four police members have been suspended because of their role in the massacre. Also, the local commander apologized for the attack on the verification commission.
Acute confrontation persists as the police continue to forcibly eradicate the coca plant. Paradoxically, voluntary substitution of coca with licit crops is a cornerstone of the internationally acclaimed peace accords between the government of Colombia and the now demobilized guerrilla army of the FARC, which has had a strong presence precisely in Tumaco.

So why is the central government of Colombia willing to order forcible eradication? One significant factor is the pressure the U.S. government is exerting for short-term “results,” defined as acreage of coca eradicated. Voluntary substitution takes time and intentionally planned support in order to succeed. Although, forcible eradication can happen comparatively quickly it has not succeeded. At most it suppresses coca cultivation. Truly changing the panorama requires a longer term approach that provides genuine alternatives to the small growers. This event is proof that the Colombian government is willing to do anything, even violate human rights, to show eradication results to the pressuring U.S. government. We urge the U.S. government to support voluntary substitution in the framework of the Peace Accords and to help fund rural development in coca-growing areas.

Leaders of Buenaventura Civic Strike Threatened http://witnessforpeace.org/leaders-of-buenaventura-civic-strike-threatened/ Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:55:44 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=4277/

Photo source: comité paro civico Buenaventura facebook

International news about Colombia depicts a similar narrative: a picture of a Colombia that, after more than 50 years of civil war, has become the model of peace, making it a safe place for tourists to visit and for international businesses to investment. They cite the Peace Accords that were signed by the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016. What international discourse fails to address, however, is the reality faced by many human rights activists in the country today. The organization Somos Defensores cited that aggressions against social activists increased by 6% since last year.

We fear every day for the safety of our partners and the community leaders we accompany, as they experience a number of threats while doing their work. Right now, we are especially concerned for the safety of the leaders of the civic strike in Buenaventura. “Human rights work has become a very delicate matter,” said a member of the Civic Strike Committee (Comité del Paro Cívico), “women leaders have disproportionally faced harassment,” she added. The Buenaventura Civic Strike, which took place this past May was a three-week long strike in which the residents of Buenaventura peacefully protested the State’s historic neglect of the city. Rather than addressing the people’s concerns, the government responded by sending the National Police and Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) to suppress the protest. The ESMAD attacked the peaceful protesters using U.S. made munition. The civic strike ended when the Colombian government agreed to negotiate with the people of Buenaventura. Since this negotiation, the leaders responsible for organizing the strike have become targets to those who find their leadership threatening to the status quo. The threats come in different forms: intimidating phone calls, suspicious men in motorcycle following them home. There have even been cases in which the brakes of the vehicles of the civic strike leaders have been tampered with. Many of the leaders have had to change their phone numbers in an attempt to suppress the harassment and threats. Many are afraid to report the threats to the ombudsman’s office because of fear that denouncing will only make them a more visible target. The National Protection Unit has been distributing bulletproof vest and phones as one strategy for protection. However, the leaders don’t feel that this is enough, and many, in fact, feel that it only makes them more visible to those who wish to harm them.

These social leaders along with many other leaders in Colombia face danger for taking the position of defending civilians, their lands, and the right to a dignified life. Ensuring the safety of social leaders is crucial for a sustainable peace. These leaders see beyond themselves and their own comfort. They continue to work despite the threats. It is important that the international community understand that, despite the Peace Accords, social leaders continue to be persecuted, yet their presence is crucial for building a durable peace in Colombia. We urge the officials within the US State Department and congressional leadership to pressure the Colombian government into taking the necessary measures to better protect social leaders in Buenaventura and in the rest of the country. Finally,  U.S. aid to ESMAD used to violently repress civilians must stop!

http://witnessforpeace.org/4268/ Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:18:27 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=4268/ Struggle and Solidarity: Learning the Truth About the Drug War in Mexico

By Luciano A. Ramirez Guerra

Our delegation arrived in Mexico City and was greeted by a modern metropolitan environment that was a drastic change in scenery to our group from rural Nebraska. The mildly warm weather and overcast skies of the city were a gracious relief from the intense heatwave back home.

After a month of extensive preparation through the reading of academic literature and reflective discussion, our delegation already had a semblance of the state of violence in Mexico. To hear the accounts of numerous, journalists, activists, and writers and their own experiences placed a real and human edge to the conflict that can’t be witnessed through just reading.

On the way to meet one of our speakers at the UNAM we jumped into cramped metro cars, and saw firsthand the busy morning commute around the capital city. Vibrant and colorful murals spanned numerous buildings of the university. The campus was anything but monotone, and the murals, many of which were explicitly political, depicted a culture of deviant student activism. Impressive artworks and mosaics melded together historical iconography and academic symbolism.

Our speaker for that event, Antonio Cerezo, was unjustly imprisoned and tortured alongside his brother by the Mexican government. His organization, the Comité Cerezo, has monitored the widespread human rights violations since former President Calderón’s launching of the Mexican Drug War. Since then, militarization through U.S. policies such as the Mérida Initiative fueled a culture of paranoia. The war against narcotrafficking required vigilance against “the enemy within”- anyone was potentially a drug criminal. This war has ulterior motives. For the past twelve years, the Mexican security apparatus has been transformed into another appendage for the enforcement of U.S. policy goals- the extraction of Mexican mineral resources by North American companies, and the sealing of the southern border to thwart Central American migration. Antonio delivered this information in such a calm, matter-of-fact manner. It was nearly jarring. Many of the others who we’ve met have reached essentially the same conclusions- that the Drug War wasn’t designed to be just a war on drugs and the drug trade.

On a later day, we listened to the presentation of a journalist from the organization Periodistas de a Pie. She depicted the sheer carnage caused by the War on Drugs from the perspective of someone working in the media since the violence started. The journalist had co-workers and associates who were killed by drug criminals and corrupt government officials. While she was holding her infant child, she revealed to us that she too had received death threats over her work. I and the other guests in the room could only imagine how distraught and afraid we would have been if we were in her shoes. But the journalist still does her job despite risks that loom overhead. To this day, Mexico is the second most-dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Everyone in the delegation bonded closely and we continuously went adventuring around the capital. In Mexico City, the faces, sights, smells, and tastes of the colonial streets and modern boulevards left lasting impressions. The outdoor markets, the Baroque edifices and narrow avenues, and the scenic parks were truly marvelous to witness. To be certain, these were great times. Though happy memories of this trip seem incongruous and strange alongside the stories we’ve heard of drug-fueled violence, civilian deaths, state-committed crimes, widespread impunity, and the ballooning number of forced disappearances across the country.

The accounts that we’ve listened to throughout the week displayed a nation that is hurting, but whose populace shows great resilience. In the face of adversity and injustice, new heroes are constantly being made in Mexico. Though each of us on this trip have brought home our own conclusions and our own lessons to abide by, many of us have realized how much of a waste it is of our power and privilege to do nothing about the problems surrounding us. In our own ways, we can harness and utilize our own creative potential to mobilize and empower our communities to push for positive change. All of us are incredibly grateful for such a wonderful journey.

Luciano A. Ramirez Guerra was part of Witness for Peace’s July 2017 delegation in Mexico City: The Drug War and Social Control: Militarization, Migration, and Displacement

Witness for Peace response to the U.S.’s September 29th, 2017 travel advisory for Cuba and October 3rd expulsion of Cuban diplomats from the embassy http://witnessforpeace.org/witness-for-peace-response-to-the-u-s-s-september-29th-2017-travel-advisory-for-cuba-and-october-3rd-expulsion-of-cuban-diplomats-from-the-embassy/ Thu, 05 Oct 2017 21:23:59 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=4196/
Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Witness for Peace sees no objective basis for the Trump Administration’s Friday, Sept. 29th Cuba travel warning, and regrets the U.S. government’s decision to withdraw diplomatic staff from its Havana embassy. Furthermore, we strongly condemn the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington, DC.

The administration announced last Friday that it was withdrawing 60 percent of non-emergency staff from the U.S. Embassy in Havana and is warning US citizens to avoid travel to Cuba. The justification for these actions, along with the expulsion of Cuban diplomatic personnel announced Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, is unexplained health problems that 21 Havana-based U.S. diplomats have reported. Unidentified U.S. officials also said the U.S. Consulate in Havana would indefinitely suspend issuing U.S. visas to Cubans. The U.S. Embassy will continue to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Cuba.

The U.S. complaint about the health issues originated almost a year ago during the Obama Administration when the two governments were working toward rapprochement. As acknowledged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Cuban government responded immediately and initiated an investigation, inviting the U.S. government to collaborate.

During the investigations –of what the U.S. described as “sonic attacks”– the FBI, CIA, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with Cuban intelligence officials, have found no devices or other evidence to explain the hearing loss and other symptoms that were reported. They’ve likewise been unable to determine the causes, origins or perpetrators of these “incidents,” claimed by some to be “targeted attacks.” Moreover, experts have questioned the technical feasibility of a sonic weapon’s capability to produce the symptoms described.

Crucially for civilian travelers, and especially for those joining our people-to-people delegations,  we at WFP have not received any reports from WFP staff, our field contacts and partners, or participants in any WFP delegations about any “attacks” (sonic or otherwise) or adverse health symptoms or incidents. And no buildings/workplaces near the Embassy or any neighbors (Cuban or foreign) of any of the diplomats have reported any incidents or symptoms.

Witness for Peace’s main priority anywhere that we work is the safety of our delegates and in-country field partners. In addition to working in countries with stable security contexts, such as Cuba and contemporary Nicaragua, we’ve been working for almost four decades in places like Colombia, Honduras and Mexico, with much more dynamic security contexts. For decades we’ve been able to bring delegates safely into conflict zones in the latter countries due to the close and trusted relationships we maintain with in-country partners and the ongoing and thorough security analysis that we conduct with those partners and other credible sources. It’s important to note that when we’ve assessed that there was a reliable security concern, we’ve changed our travel itineraries.

We’ve done wide consultations with staff at the Martin Luther King Center (our principal partner on the island), other Cuban partners and field contacts, and beyond. Not a single person whom we’ve consulted with believes that travel to Cuba poses security risks for WFP delegates or other U.S. citizens.

“Based on the evidence thus far and the fact that the State Department says no other U.S. citizens have been affected, we believe that its decision is unwarranted, and are continuing to organize travel to Cuba and encourage others to do so,” says Bob Guild, Vice President of Marazul Charters, the trusted charter company with which WFP has often worked. Guild has also stressed that U.S. citizens and residents can legally travel to Cuba under U.S. law–with licensed travel providers like Witness for Peace–and that the State Department advisory in no way prohibits U.S. persons from traveling to the island. Guild is also the co-coordinator of RESPECT, the largest association of U.S. organizers of travel to Cuba, which has been joined by U.S. commercial airlines and others in the travel industry who have publicly expressed their intention to continue to travel to Cuba. RESPECT Co-Coordinator Gail Reed noted, “Cuba remains a very safe destination for U.S. travelers.” Indeed, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed this week, “We have no reports that private U.S. citizens have been affected…” 500,000 have visited Cuba so far this year. Additionally, the U.S. Foreign Service Association, the powerful union that represents U.S. diplomats around the world, also opposes any decision to withdraw U.S. diplomats from Cuba.

Unforeseen situations such as natural disasters, car accidents, random physical assaults from strangers, health issues, etc. are possibilities anywhere you go in the world. WFP takes all of the precautions to minimize risk to delegates anywhere that we work. Cuba is a very safe place with extremely low levels of violent crime, making it far more safe than most U.S. cities. While on WFP delegations in Cuba, delegates spend their time in groups accompanied almost always by someone on our WFP International Team and field partners. The assurance WFP can confidently give is that according to our analysis based on wide consultations with field partners and other sources, WFP, as well as field partners, are in agreement that current travel in Cuba for U.S. citizens does not pose any increased safety concerns.

We would also like to underscore the widespread belief of our field partners that the issued travel advisory, much like the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from its Washington, DC embassy, isn’t a neutral and objective decision, but is rather a politically motivated action by the Trump Administration to rollback gains toward normalizing relationships between our two countries in order to further its own very different foreign policy goals toward Cuba. WFP shares this analysis and believes that the Trump Administration is manipulating public opinion and the media by leveraging unexplained isolated symptoms and speculations to provoke fear and again justify its goals. The work that we do in Cuba is precisely to expose how the interests of the U.S. government, as well as private U.S. interests, have shaped foreign policy toward Cuba for decades without regard for their impact on the well-being of ordinary Cubans. Simultaneously we work to show Cuban society for what it is: sovereign, resilient, proud, and steadfast in its commitment to international solidarity.

We at Witness for Peace will continue to bring U.S. citizens and residents to the island to highlight unjust U.S. policies toward Cuba, even “smaller” ones like this hasty travel advisory and reactive U.S. decisions around diplomatic personnel in both countries. And we urge you to take action to support the bills in the House and Senate that would end the economic embargo and travel ban on Cuba (action page courtesy of our good friends at the Latin America Working Group). Will you join us?


Ayotzinapa: 3 years without relief http://witnessforpeace.org/ayotzinapa-3-years-without-relief/ Mon, 25 Sep 2017 17:16:31 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=4102/ Today, September 26th, 2017, marks the third anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students of Ayotzinapa, at the hands of the Mexican State.

Today, September 26th, 2017, marks the third anniversary of the death of 3 students and 3 civilians and at least 29 people injured during the attacks, at the hands of the Mexican State.

Today, September 26th, 2017, marks the third anniversary of the beginning of dozens of brutal tortures that led to forced confessions, at the hands of the Mexican State.

Today, September 26th, 2017, marks the third anniversary of 3 years without relief for the families of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa.

March in Mexico City including the family members of the disappeared 43 students. (Picture published on El Debate’s website  on 09/26/2016)

Although the family members of the 43 disappeared students to this day have not been told where their loved ones are, they, as well as much of civil society know that without a doubt “Fue el Estado! (It was the State!)” Although the Mexican government at the state and federal levels has tried desperately to cover up that truth, independent reviews such as those of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as well as journalistic investigations such as those of Anabel Hernández have brought us closer to the truth.

Some of the key points, as told by Anabel Hernández in her book, La verdadera noche de Iguala, are as follows:

  1. The federal government knew what was happening the moment the students arrived at Iguala around 7:30 pm until 11 to 12 pm when the students were most intensely attacked and when the forced disappearances of the 43 occurred.
  2. The federal government, municipal federal police, the federal police as well as the military (specifically members of the 27th battalion) participated in the attacks against the students.
  3. 2 of the buses the students had taken to use as transportation for their political activities were filled with about 2 million dollars worth of heroin, which the students did not know at the time; the military tracked the movement of those buses since they were taken and participated in their recovery because they were working for a drug cartel.
  4. After shooting at the buses, the military was able to get the students off the buses and extract the heroin, but they noticed that some of the students figured out what was going on and the decision was made to forcefully disappear them, so as not to have witnesses.
  5. President Enrique Peña Nieto knew that state police and the military participated during that night and he as well as other members of the federal and state government participated in a cover up, which included evidence planting and destruction, as well as producing forced confessions of innocent people through torture.
  6. It is still unknown where the 43 disappeared students are, but at the end of her book she writes that there are witnesses who saw them being transported in three distinct locations.

When asked at a book conference recently in Oaxaca how she keeps herself safe, considering what she’s has uncovered over the span of her career, Anabel Hernández stated that anyone in Mexico could be one of the 43 and that no one is safe. It is the terrifying daily reality for many in Mexico. Despite horror about this situation, this fear has kept more people from joining the parents of the 43 in their protests and in denouncing  the more than 30,000 disappearances and 200,000 extrajudicial killings since 2007. It is important to note that there are many other massacres that continue to remain under State impunity, and although not discussed here, they are just as important. The Tlatlaya massacre, the Acteal Massacre, the “dirty war” in Guerrero in the 70s and 80s, the murders in Nochixtlan in 2016, to name a few.

Matt Weuker

Why do folks in the US need to care about this? Often, writing from the US and worldwide describes “underdeveloped” Mexico as a gruesome blood bath whose “poor” citizens are being massacred. This implies that the US is not also a bloodbath,  it produces pity, and it ignores the negative role of US foreign policy in Mexico and throughout Latin America. First, the dozens of police shootings of people of color, the prison system, and the immigration detention system, point to the legalized violence against people in the States, disproportionately those of color. Second, the people of Mexico don’t need our pity. And third, it is imperative that we understand the role the US shares in all of this.

Mike Keefe

So, what is the role of US policy in Mexico in cases such as Ayotzinapa? The Merida Initiative has provided 2.5 billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government and specifically the militarization of the country by providing arms and training to the armed forces and police. The events of Ayotzinapa are a direct consequence of that militarization. With all of its security and technological apparatus worldwide, it is hard to believe that the US would not know and does not know that the governments, the police and the armed forces in Mexico have ties to organized crime. Additionally, drug addiction is a public health issue but has decade after decade continued to be criminalized. While the demand for drugs in the US remains, the supply and all of its consequences will remain in Mexico. Also, we must remember that the complex state and organized crime web does not end at the US-Mexico border; something that is never touched on in the US media is the corruption and collusion that are also rampant in the US for the drugs to get from the border to every inch of US territory. Often times corruption and violence are depicted as almost innate “Mexico problems,” when in actuality this most certainly crosses borders as well.

What can I do?

1.Contact your representative* and demand a review of U.S. assistance and investigation of human rights abuses in Mexico, which U.S. security aid has played a major role in.

*Please use this directory to find your representative (if needed) by Zip Code, or by name, and use the Member Search function to find your representative by their last name (directory URL: http://capwiz.com/fconl/directory/congdir.tt). In the entry for your representative in this directory, you’ll find their contact information to call them, in the “Contact” tab, as well as the name of their Foreign Policy LA (Legislative Aide), under the “Staff” tab (or you can just ask to speak to the representative’s Foreign Policy Legislative Aide).

This blog post was written by a WFP staff member.

The Drug War Unmasked: Mexico’s Love Triangle http://witnessforpeace.org/the-drug-war-unmasked-mexicos-love-triangle/ Tue, 12 Sep 2017 16:49:29 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=4023/ by Laura Krasovitzky

“The war on drugs has in fact been a strategy to disguise social control and political repression, which serves to prevent and dislocate social unrest produced by displacement.”

The quote above is one of many infuriating, yet unsurprising, statements included in the 6th Report on Human Rights Violations. Defending Human Rights in Mexico: Extrajudicial executions as the State’s response recently published by Mexican human rights organizations Comité Cerezo México, Urgent Action for Human Rights Defenders (ACUDDEH) and the National Campaign Against Enforced Disappearances.

Unlike the vast reporting on the bloody consequences of Mexico’s U.S.-financed and deceptively named “war against drug trafficking,“ which has murdered 200,000 people and disappeared over 30,000 more, not enough has been said about human rights violations against human rights defenders (HRDs) themselves.

As the 6th Report lays out, between June 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017:

  • 1442 human rights violations (four per day) were committed against HRDs
  • 579 HRDs were assaulted, attacked, threatened, harassed, illegally surveilled and/or followed
  • 795 HRDs were arbitrarily detained
  • 57 HRDs were murdered through extrajudicial executions
  • 11 HRDs were forcefully disappeared  

Who’s responsible? “Contrary to what is said and repeated in speeches by government officials, it is not the narco, it is not organized crime… in the majority of cases we have documented, it is the government and government agents who are clearly identified as the ones perpetrating human rights violations.” (6th Report, 20)

Why? “The people who have been victims of the grave human rights violations we report here have committed the “grave crime” of obstructing profits for the neoliberal market.” (6th Report, 23)

Let’s break it down.

Mexico’s upsurge of violence and repression is not accidental, but rather follows a distinct systemic pattern involving a series of international and national actors, an elusive transnational money trail and carefully curated marketing strategies to legitimize abuse of power.

As Naomi Klein writes in No is Not Enough, the term “shock doctrine“ can be used to explain “the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock – wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters – to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy”.“ In Mexico’s case, the financial and institutional implementation of the U.S.’s “War on Drugs“ provided the perfect framework to legalize displacement and human rights violations through a series of neoliberal national structural reforms designed to give easier and greater entry to transnational corporations.

We may visualize this grand scheme as a love triangle.

At the core of the so-called drug war lies the backbone of neoliberalism: unhindered resource extraction, privatization of public services and goods and normalized rampant militarization through arms proliferation. Encircled by a vast financial net of U.S. funding, including $2.5 billion allocated to the Merida Initiative since 2008, the Mexican government collaborates with both transnational corporations — through foreign investment, Special Economic Zones and current NAFTA renegotiations — and organized crime — with less than 1% of crimes committed facing prosecution, earning Mexico the worst impunity score in Latin America according to the 2017 Global Impunity Index.

Inserting this love triangle into Klein’s shock doctrine, the step-by-step process looks something like this:

As the 6th Report states, “Social decomposition is a state policy — militarizing the country’s territory and social life as social control — that creates a perfect scenario to commit human rights violations.“

So what do we want?

Witness for Peace has demanded and continues to demand an end to the Merida Initiative, transparency of U.S. Department of Defense funds allocated to Mexico (and other Latin American countries) and a replacement of NAFTA that entails a transparent and participatory process: including environmental standards, labor rights for workers and an end to NAFTA tribunals (ISDS). We support autonomous decisions around food, cultural and political sovereignty and reject U.S. policies that do not support people’s livelihoods, foster healthy communities and protect the environment.

What can you do?

  1. Contact your representative* and demand a review of U.S. assistance and investigation of human rights abuses in Mexico, which U.S. security aid has played a major role in. Ask your representative to support Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, who has been circulating a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with Reps Raúl Grijalva and Mark Pocan, asking for a full review of U.S. assistance to Mexico.
  2. Share our most recent video on NAFTA through the eyes of Mexico (available in English and Spanish). For more information visit: http://witnessforpeace.org/replace-nafta/ 
  3. Support our partners from Comité Cerezo by sharing their report on human rights violations in Mexico.

*Please use this directory to find your representative (if needed) by Zip Code, or by name, and use the Member Search function to find your representative by their last name (directory URL: http://capwiz.com/fconl/directory/congdir.tt). In the entry for your representative in this directory, you’ll find their contact information to call them, in the “Contact” tab, as well as the name of their Foreign Policy LA (Legislative Aide), under the “Staff” tab (or you can just ask to speak to the representative’s Foreign Policy Legislative Aide).


Pajuiles Resiste: Dignity, Water, and Life http://witnessforpeace.org/pajuiles-resiste-dignity-water-and-life/ Wed, 06 Sep 2017 18:06:55 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=3973/

In La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras, the hometown of the murdered indigenous, feminist, environmentalist leader Berta Cáceres, a slogan has taken hold in the 18 months since her assassination. “Berta no se murió, se multiplicó.” Berta hasn’t died, she’s multiplied. There is maybe nowhere that the essential truth of this statement is as obvious as in the communities of Pajuiles, 135 miles to the north of La Esperanza, where the multiplications of Berta’s extraordinary work and life stand clear-eyed in the face of the same forces of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, criminalization, violence, and corruption that she lived and died fighting.


There are ways in which the reverberations of Berta and COPINH’s struggle are stark. Pajuiles is a small place, defending its essential rights to water and, by extension, life, against a hydroelectric project that was imposed on the affected communities by powerful economic interests and corrupt political officials. The escalation of criminalization and police brutality in Pajuiles, much of which we described here, has followed a pattern that we and others recognize from Río Blanco. But there’s also a deeper way that Berta echoes in Pajuiles – in the incredible organization of the community by our partners in the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ, for its initials in Spanish), and in the often staggering depth of moral clarity present in the struggle.


In terms of our larger analysis of the situation in Honduras, and of the US role here, the situation in Pajuiles brings two things into sharp focus. The first is that the struggles–against displacement, so-called development projects pushed through with a lack of community consent, and environmental devastation leading to public health crises–are not unique to indigenous peoples in the country. There is, of course, something distinct in these crimes when they’re perpetrated against indigenous communities exactly because they’re indigenous. But the same insidious tactics are used against other people in Honduras, with similarly monstrous effects.


A source of constant inspiration for us, though, is that these tactics are also met with the same steadfast resistance, born of the same inherent dignity and the basic moral truth that human beings have not just a right but an obligation to defend their water, their health, and their lives. The members of MADJ, and of the community in Pajuiles have, for more than 160 days, been working tirelessly in an encampment they call the Campamento Digno por el Agua y La Vida – Dignity Camp for Water and for Life – to defend themselves against an increasingly brutal onslaught of economic and political interests. It’s tempting to imagine this as David vs. Goliath, but of course there are thousands upon thousands of Davids in Honduras. We stand in awe of them.


The second way Pajuiles fits into our overall analysis of Honduras is in the role that state institutions and security forces have played there. We’ll start with the Public Ministry (MP), the state prosecutors of Honduras, who receive ample political, technical, and financial support from the United States. For more than a year, MADJ, on behalf of the affected communities in and around Pajuiles, has filed complaint after complaint about the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the Mezapa River. All of these complaints – filed over the course of 18 months and regarding everything from the illegal permit issued to the company, Hidrocep, to the environmental damages the construction has caused, to the threats and harassment against members of the camp – have been met with official silence. It’s equal parts revealing and unsurprising, then, that the moment complaints came from the political and economic interests behind the dam, the MP started judicial proceedings. There have been 18 months of complaints from MADJ and the community without so much as a response, but their members who were arrested on August 15th started their hearings less than two weeks later.

A Capacity Issue?

We hear constantly from the Embassy, in our own meetings with them and on official visits with delegations, about the capacity problems in the Honduran justice system. The support of the United States is necessary, their narrative says, because the root of the impunity in Honduras is that lack of capacity. But what we saw in Pajuiles is what we see time and again. Impunity is a one-way street, and capacity issues seem to magically disappear when the complainants are massive companies or municipal authorities.


This is also true with the police. When we last wrote about Pajuiles, the events of August 15th were occurring in real time, so we should fill in the details here. After the assault on MADJ’s General Coordinator, Martín Fernández, and Óscar Martínez on August 4th and the first wave of arrests on the 10th, members of the encampment were on high alert. At around 6:20 that morning, the first piece of heavy machinery showed up at the site of the roadblock. The community, as it has done for months, prevented it from traveling up the mountain. Less than half an hour later, a second piece of machinery arrived, this time with a police escort.


Stories told by the police and community members widely diverge about everything that happened next, but what is known for sure is that the head of the police in Tela, Alejandro Iglesias, ordered the community to let the machinery through, and they responded by demanding to see his warrant. At this, five people were violently arrested by police with guns drawn, including a woman who is 6-months pregnant, a man in his 70s, and a teenager. Police fired tear gas into people’s homes, and into the encampment itself, including the area where they cook. All of this was done in the presence of children, the elderly, and pregnant women.


When we arrived at about 10:30, there was still a massive contingent of police, including the riot squad, Cobras, and units of the preventative National Police. The atmosphere was tense, but the people we saw, as we’d seen them for months, remained in defiant and pacific resistance. The Cobra commander ordered us to stop photographing the scene there, and it seemed in the general interest to comply given the circumstances, but we did manage to capture a lot of how the scene looked when we got there. Representatives from Honduras’ Human Rights Commission, CONADEH, were on the scene, attempting mediation. We were invited by community members and CONADEH staff to attend an impromptu meeting with Hidrocep engineers, but nobody was at the Hidrocep office when we arrived. We left shortly after the largest group of police. The rest of the day passed without incident.


A Pajuiles community member after the arrests and police brutality on August 15th, 2017. HIs sign reads, “We don’t want a hydroelectric/Hidrosep out.” Cobras and national police in the background.


A group of Cobras with riot gear sit outside Pajuiles, August 15th, 2017.


National Police (left), Cobras (center), and community members (right), at the entrance to Pajuiles, August 15th, 2017.


A Pajuiles community member holds up a bag containing the discarded shells of tear gas rounds, August 15th, 2017.


“We demand the liberty of our compañeros” and “We don’t want a hydroelectric/Hidrosep out.” Signs held up by community members on August 15, 2017. The sign on the right-hand side in the background is from a USAID project in Pajuiles from 2004 – its last line says “Water is a human right.”


Cobras and National Police on the highway outside Pajuiles, August 15th, 2017.


Community members in Pajuiles, with National Police and Cobras in the foreground, August 15th, 2017.


The sheer size of the police presence in Pajuiles the morning of August 15th puts into serious question the capacity issues with Honduran security forces that are repeated constantly by the Embassy. Recall that on the 4th of August, when Martín and Óscar were threatened and beaten by a mob of 20 armed men, alleged to have been paid between 150-200 lempiras each by Hidrocep (somewhere between $6-8), three cops responded, no arrests were made, and no charges were filed. But an enormous number of police from various forces, led by the commander of the police for the Tela Municipality, replete with riot gear, massive armored vehicles, and tear gas, were somehow available for the twin purposes of dislocating the roadblock and escorting Hidrocep’s machinery to the construction sites along the Mezapa River. By some estimates, some 80% of the police force from Tela City were present in Pajuiles on the 15th. Any claims on the lack of capacity for Honduran security forces, like those for the Public Ministry, have to contend with how easily Hidrocep’s owner, Jason Hawit, was able to call upon a small army to dislocate a peaceful encampment opposed to his project. (They also have to contend with the question of priorities. It seems logical that for half a day on August 15th, the city of Tela was indeed faced with a crisis of capacity since the vast majority of its police force was occupying Pajuiles.)


Of particular interest and concern to us as U.S. citizens is the presence in Pajuiles of the Metropolitan Units for Prevention and Counter-Crime Intervention (UMEP, for their initials in Spanish), units of the National Police that are directly funded, trained, and supported by the United States. On paper, these units are designed to bring much-needed reforms to a police force that has historically been associated with corruption, violence, and human rights abuses, based on a model of violence prevention and community policing. As we’ve written before, the UMEPs are held up by people ranging from Embassy and State Department officials to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario, as examples of how the U.S. can positively engage with Honduran security forces to bring about important changes and improve the National Police’s abysmal human rights record. That position is used as an argument against the passage of the Berta Cáceres Act, which Witness for Peace and all of our Honduran partners actively support.


We outlined in our previous piece on Pajuiles the essential contradiction in the Embassy’s position of believing it can support only the “good” Honduran security forces. This is made abundantly clear by what happened in Pajuiles, where UMEP units engaged in joint operations with the Cobras, who the United States no longer supports due to their role in widespread and systematic human rights abuses, including forced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings after the 2009 coup. The Embassy’s position on UMEP’s presence in Pajuiles is that they were following a legally issued judicial order. This is the same tired explanation given for the role a different UMEP unit, based in La Ceiba, played in the illegitimate arrests of the Garífuna human rights defender and journalist Geovanny Bermúdez in May and the student movement leader Armando Velásquez in July. Again, the best case the Embassy can make is that UMEP is just doing their jobs by enforcing human rights-violating judicial orders, but this betrays their position that they can train certain units not to violate human rights.


But what’s more in the case of Pajuiles than just UMEP’s involvement in the criminalization of a legitimate human rights campaign is that UMEP units are themselves implicated in human rights abuses. MADJ members allege that UMEP-affiliated police beat the teenaged detainee while he was in custody; treated the pregnant woman violently and kept her entirely under the supervision of male police officers during her time in custody; and kept all of the detainees on both August 10th and 15th in inhumane conditions. If these allegations prove to be true, and as of this writing we have every reason to believe that they are, the case against funding and training UMEP is no longer abstract. The “engagement argument” against the Berta Cáceres Act becomes even more specious when the model counterpoint is beating up kids.

Recent Developments

Since the events of August 15th, the preliminary hearings have started in two different cases against members of the encampment and roadblock in Pajuiles. In the first of those, for the ten who were criminalized on August 10th, the hearing is suspended temporarily because the assigned judge in the case is the sister of Tela municipal mayor Mario Fuentes, who is accused by MADJ and the communities of colluding with Hidrocep to illegally approve the project. Citing the conflict of interest, MADJ’s attorneys representing the ten, Víctor Fernández and Ariel Madrid, have taken the case to an appellate court. That court’s answer, and the appointment of a new judge, is expected soon. These ten face the charge of usurpation, the same legal tactic used previously against Berta Cáceres and other members of COPINH, as well as Garífuna leadership and members of OFRANEH. As a result, pending the results of their trial, none of the ten are allowed to leave the country, they all have to check in twice a week with the judge in Tela, and they can’t attend public meetings.

MADJ lawyer Víctor Fernández addresses the supporters of the criminalized Pajuiles residents outside the courthouse in Tela, Honduras. The sign says, “The rivers are not for sale, they’re to be defended. We don’t want a hydroelectric. Freedom for our compañeros.”


In the second case, which involved four more who face charges stemming from the situation on August 15th, the preliminary hearings occurred over the course of three days – August 28th and 29th and September 1st. (Three of those charged are represented by Fernández and Madrid and the fourth, who runs a pulpería in Pajuiles but is otherwise not involved in the movement there, retained separate counsel.) The WfP Honduras team attended the first two days of the hearings as international observers. These four were charged with the very Orwellian-sounding “attending illicit meetings and damages.”*


(*On Friday, September 1st, after this blog was written but before it was published, the judge announced that she was dropping all charges in the second case, a welcome relief and victory for MADJ and the community. Víctor and Ariel deserve immense credit for presenting an impassioned, airtight defense of the inherent right to defend water and life. We hope, maybe against hope, that the judge in the other case will follow this one’s lead, and drop the absurd and trumped-up charges against the community.)



Four of the criminalized Pajuiles residents hold a sign outside the courthouse in Tela. It reads, “For water and for life/we will pursue this to the end/unity and struggle Pajuiles resists.”


Banners outside the courthouse in Tela. The yellow one reads, “The Pajuiles Sector does not restrict free movement/it only protects its water and, with it, life. STOP THE CRIMINALIZATION.”

Last Wednesday, August 23rd, Mario Fuentes held a sort-of town hall meeting that was promoted as a “dialogue” between the various stakeholders in this case. Jason Smith, the human rights and labor attaché from the U.S. Embassy, was present, as were representatives from MADJ, the National Police, Hidrocep, the Catholic and Evangelical churches, the municipality, and the UN. (And us, of course.) At the conclusion of the dialogue, a set of non-binding agreements were signed by the above-listed stakeholders as a proposed way to move forward. Among the most important provisions were the immediate cessation of construction pending further environmental impact assessments and review, and a promise from Mario Fuentes that he would encourage the Public Ministry, who were noticeably absent from the meeting, to drop charges against all those criminalized at Pajuiles. (We have no way of knowing whether Fuentes had anything to do with the results of the illicit meetings and damages case against the four, but we doubt it.)


MADJ General Coordinator Martín Fernández (left) chats with Padre Melo outside the “dialogue” in Tela.

The following day, we were present as Jason toured Pajuiles. While he was there, he saw first hand the incredible ecological destruction that the construction of the dam has already caused to the Mezapa River, heard stories of police brutality from its victims, and saw evidence of the effects the construction has had on the only source of potable water for these communities. This included deeply upsetting photos and video of the taps and showers in people’s homes spitting out sludgy, brownish-orange sand in place of water. Moreover, we all saw clearly the blatant violation of the previous day’s accords in the form of ongoing construction work. That violation has continued unabated since, and it is the very face of impunity. Because they know there will be no meaningful consequences, Hidrocep can go through the PR motions of sending engineers to the dialogue, signing a set of agreements that they know to be non-binding and know they’re going to ignore, and send workers to violate those agreements less than 24 hours later. To this point, there has been no public word from any of the other signatories on the subject.


The erosion of the mountain is clearly visible at one of the Hidrocep work sites. That soil has been spilling into the Mezapa River, contaminating the local water supply. Photo taken during the visit of U.S. Embassy personnel to Pajuiles.


The Active Protagonists of their Struggle

We’ve been working in Pajuiles since very shortly after the encampment and roadblock opened there on March 22nd, and were present for planning meetings with members of MADJ and the communities since September of 2016. Obviously, recent developments have given national and international attention to the struggle there against a litany of human rights violations – of the right to water, the right to health, the right to life, the right to assemble, and the right to a fair trial. For our part, we want to emphasize that as genuinely horrifying as the treatment of the community at the hands of municipal authorities, security forces, and business interests has been, nobody should think of the people of Pajuiles and the surrounding communities as being merely victims. Another critical way that the multiplication of Berta Cáceres is so evident in Pajuiles is in the crystal clarity of the political and moral analysis of the people there, and in the way they’ve taken on the role as the active protagonists in their struggle with extraordinary dignity, an abiding sense of community, and an unwavering commitment to the defense of their basic human rights.


In the course of our year of working with MADJ and the communities, we’ve developed, personally and as representatives of Witness for Peace, such an intense affection and admiration for the people there. For Albertina, Óscar, Angelica, and Silverio. For Chicho, Chanito, Santos David, and Arnaldo. For Don Santos, and Don Carlos. For David and Christian, for Martín, Víctor, Diego, Ariel, Darwin, Marlon, and Mario. And we unequivocally stand with Óscar, Angelica, Arnaldo, Santos, Andrés, Pablo, Regino, Jesús, Germán, and Rufino as they face continued criminalization for standing strong in defense of their water, their health, and their life.


Many of you will have seen our friend Karla Lara performing her song “Que corra el río” on her recent tour of the U.S. with Melissa Cardoza. In the song, which she performed in Pajuiles recently as well as at its sister encampment in Jilamito, Karla asks, “¿De dónde tantas Bertas?” Where do such Bertas come from? We’re certainly no closer to answering that question in the grand scheme than she is, but we can say with absolute confidence that they come from Pajuiles. We’ve seen this community grow, in such a short time, into the face of dignity, grace, strength, and resolve confronting a slew of Goliaths. We don’t know where that strength comes from, but It’s been our sincere and genuine honor to be a small part of it.

Karla Lara performs at a forum on the situations in Pajuiles and Jilamito, Tegucigalpa, August 16th, 2017.


Mass at the encampment, Pajuiles, August 17th, 2017.


Karla Lara performs at an assembly at the encampment in Pajuiles, August 17th, 2017.


How You Can Help

Witness for Peace’s commitment to grassroots organizing means we rely on y’all to continue our work. The ongoing crisis in Pajuiles has taken their share of our time, money, and energy the past five weeks or so, and we’ve relied on WfP’s Urgent Response fund to be able to be present on the days of repression, at the hearings of those criminalized, and at community assemblies and the official dialogue. Witness is currently running a campaign to fundraise for the Urgent Response fund, and your contributions are so dearly appreciated by us and our colleagues in the other WfP program sites. There is a general paucity of international presence in Honduras, and our ability to respond to everything in Pajuiles has been made possible by these types of contributions. We greatly appreciate your support.


As ever, we recommend following MADJ’s Facebook page for updates, photos, and video from Pajuiles. We hope you’ll consider coming and meeting these extraordinary activists for yourself by joining us on one of our delegations next year. And we will be in touch as things develop.


Bryan and Ryan

Witness for Peace Honduras International Team

Join WFP as our Communications Intern! http://witnessforpeace.org/communications-intern/ Wed, 16 Aug 2017 19:42:51 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=3934/ Duties: 

  • Assist in developing social media content (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.)
  • Help maintain and update website
  • Assist in preparing quarterly newsletter, fundraising appeal, annual report and email blasts

Regular commitments/meetings:

  • 10-20 hours per week (hours are somewhat flexible)
  • Monthly all staff meeting, 4th Thursday of each month

Qualified candidates will be/have:

  • A commitment to Witness for Peace’s mission and covenant
  • Excellent written and verbal communication
  • Excellent editing skills
  • Self-motivated, detail-oriented
  • Excellent computer skills
  • The ability to work independently and with others
  • Dependability, flexibility, and ability to maintain confidentiality
  • The ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines
  • Experience/Proficiency in WordPress, InDesign, and/or Action Network

Location & Hours

Flexible, preference for Washington, DC; Minneapolis, MN; or Oaxaca, Mexico.

Specific days and number of hours are flexible and can be negotiated

Start & End Dates

Available now with a minimum commitment of 3 months preferred.

How to Apply

Send a résumé and cover letter to: elise@witnessforpeace.org with subject line: Communications Internship

WFP Statement on NAFTA Renegotiations http://witnessforpeace.org/wfp-statement-on-nafta-renegotiations/ Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:48:39 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=3922/ August 16, 2017

Today marks the first official day that NAFTA renegotiations will take place between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, something Witness for Peace and our partners have demanded from the beginning. But the Trump administration’s recently-released plan for renegotiating NAFTA fails to provide a roadmap to replace it with a deal that is fair to the majority of people in Mexico, the United States and Canada. Instead, it retreads aspects of the same, bad trade policies that have for decades further empowered and privileged big business over people and the environment. And all signs point to it resulting in an agreement that will continue to economically displace people in Mexico, especially in the countryside, and spur forced migration.

WFP has documented the damaging effects -of three other FTAs– NAFTA, CAFTA, and the U.S.-Colombia FTA— and we are concerned about these renegotiations that will affect 487 million people, intensifying the race to the bottom and deepening a model that devastates communities throughout the Americas. While Trump opposed the then-proposed “NAFTA on steroids” Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the campaign trail, members of his administration have done an about-face and said on a number of occasions that they’ll actually use the failed TPP as the model for NAFTA renegotiations.

Witness for Peace advocates for a replacement of NAFTA that includes a transparent and participatory process: including environmental standards that are enforced, labor rights for workers, and the end to NAFTA tribunals (ISDS). We support autonomous decisions around food sovereignty and reject U.S. policies that do not support people’s livelihoods, foster healthy communities and protect the environment. Genuine reform of NAFTA would put up a wall against corporate profiteering and tear down barriers to solidarity among peoples.

Please visit our Replace NAFTA page for more information on how you can get involved. And watch and share our NAFTA video

Illegal Evictions and Detentions in Pajuiles, Honduras: The US Embassy’s Inadequate Response http://witnessforpeace.org/illegal-evictions-and-detentions-in-pajuiles-honduras-the-us-embassys-inadequate-response/ Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:26:37 +0000 http://witnessforpeace.org/?p=3913/

Translation: “Freedom for Angélica, Óscar, Arnaldo, and Orlando! Defending water is NOT a crime! (Movimiento Amplio for la Dignidad y Justicia)

[Note from the Honduras IT: This blog post was written on August 14th. At six o’clock this morning, August 15th, a contingent of National Police and Cobras arrived in Pajuiles, fired tear gas into the homes of community members, and arrested five people, including one pregnant woman and one minor. We arrived in Pajuiles shortly after 10:30 AM, and saw a massive gathering of security forces (around 50, by our estimate, although people who’d been there said there had been more during the arrests) and a community that continues to stand in non-violent resistance to the twin repressions of the non-consensual dam project and the increasing police violence and intimidation. See our updated action alert, as well as this action alert from La Voz de los del Abajo for more information.]

Since late last year, the Witness for Peace Honduras International Team has been observing the work of our partners in the Broad Movement for Dignity in Justice (MADJ, for its initials in Spanish) in organizing the communities in and around the town of Pajuiles, who have been restricting the construction of a hydroelectric dam, being built with neither the proper consultation of nor consent by the affected communities.

Members of the communities who have opposed the dam been in permanent occupation of access roads to a dam site since March 22nd, 2017. The dam is being constructed by  Hidrocep, S.A., which is owned and operated by Jason Hawit from one of Honduras’ most powerful families, and whose father currently awaits trial in the US on FIFA corruption charges.

Since we’ve been monitoring the situation in Pajuiles, we’ve been consistently inspired by the community’s dedication to non-violent resistance to a project that has, even in its construction phase, devastating to the river water that serves as the main source of drinking and bathing water for the communities. The protesters in occupation of the sites had successfully prevented further construction of the dam, while still allowing the free movement of people without incident. The camps at the roadblocks have been sites of community meetings and gatherings, organization, and training.

Óscar Martínez holds up two bottles of water during a Witness for Peace delegation visit to Pajuiles in May. The bottle on the left shows the quality of the water before the dam’s construction began, and the one on the right shows the current quality. (Photo Credit: Cat Walker).


The Honduras IT visited Pajuiles and its sister organization in Jilamito, with a delegation in May. While we were there, members of the community and MADJ told our delegates that for months, despite formal complaints and two lawsuits filed my MADJ and non-stop pressure, there had been total silence from local authorities on both dissolving Hidrocep’s operational license and ordering Hidrocep to pay for environmental damages that the municipality itself had verified and recognized publicly.

Intimidation and Violence

On August 4th, all but a few members left the camps in the morning to protest the stalled cases in front of the Prosecutor’s Office thirty minutes away in Tela. While they were away, around 100 individuals, who community members believed were paid and tipped off by company owner Jason Hawit, came down the mountain and destroyed and looted the camps, taunting and threatening those who stayed behind. Those who had been in Tela returned while this was going on. Despite frantic calls to police, only three showed up and, according to eyewitnesses, stood by doing nothing.

To protest the violent mob and police inaction, organizers spontaneously moved the protest to the nearby highway. Only then did police backup arrived, along with special forces and an anti-riot squad tank. A stand-off followed and eventually men, elders, children, and pregnant women were removed from the highway.

MADJ General Coordinator Martín Fernández and Pajuiles community member Óscar Martínez broke off from the group and went to the second camp to assess the damages. They were subsequently surrounded by 20 men with club, machetes, and guns and violently assaulted.

MADJ General Coordinator Martín Fernández in the aftermath of the violent attack on August 4th, 2017. (Photo Credit: Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia).


Illegal Detentions and Eviction

On the morning of August 10th, at around 6:30am, the Military Police along with members of two elite special command squads, the COBRAS and TIGRES, raided two roadblock camps in Pajuiles maintained by communities organized under the banner of Witness for Peace Partners in the Movimiento Amplio (MADJ). Community members were swiftly and forcibly evicted as uniformed agents confiscated materials and equipment from the camps. They were aggressively prevented from taking video or photos as the police ripped up the metal barricades installed by the communities.

Following the eviction and destruction of the two camps, the Military Police illegally detained Oscar Martínez and his spouse, Angélica, along with two other members of the community, Orlando Martínez and Arnaldo Castro.

Angélica, Oscar, and Rene were released late that night, the terms of which require them to check-in every Tuesday and Thursday at the courthouse in Tela. There are twelve other individuals – whom police and the company have identified as being part of the resistance leadership –  that appear on the warrant list. The official charge is “encroachment by possession of a public space to the detriment of the Honduran State and the company HIDROCEP.”

It’s worth mentioning that since 2010, MADJ has filed seven formal complaints with the State Prosecutor’s Office in Tela regarding illegal dam concessions, environmental contamination, and threats to land and water defenders. There has not yet been one injunction nor arrest made despite the office’s verification and recognition of environmental damages caused by HIDROCEP in August of 2016. And yet, in the short course of 24 hours, the same office signed an injunction and issued warrants that led to an eviction, four arrests with twelve outstanding, and all for damages caused to a small group of business executives at HIDROCEP.

MADJ’s lawyers hope to avoid the arrests (along with the psychological trauma to them and their families) of the remaining twelve by having them make a court appearance. They are also preparing to press charges against the police who raided Angélica and Oscar’s home without a search warrant.

In a clear message of intimidation, the police have maintained an anti-riot tank beside the now empty roadblock site. Angélica and Oscar’s young children wept as they were forced to abandon their home (ground zero of MADJ’s campamento digo or dignified encampment) for fear of further attacks. In a press release published by MADJ, they asserted that “no action or restitution from the company or the government can ever fully compensate or repair the serious damages inflicted upon the peaceful coexistence that at one time characterized the towns and communities of Honduras, most tragically, the splintering of the social fabric that only gets deeper with events such as those we faced today.”

The Embassy Response

Eyewitness accounts from the events of August 4th and August 10th mentioned the presence of two US-funded and trained police units: the National Police, and the TIGRES. In their responses to a Witness for Peace Urgent Action on the situation in Pajuiles, officials from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa said:

We reached out to the Honduran authorities. It is our understanding that one of the three individuals initially detained this morning has been released; the other two individuals were detained by the police based on outstanding warrants issued by a Honduran judicial authority. We are still working to ascertain their current situation. The operation was carried out by the Honduran National Police, with the support of the Police special units, the Cobras and the anti-riot Police, and other police units. To our knowledge, no members of the TIGRES were involved in this operation. We continue to monitor and work to get more details about the current situation.

Regarding the presence of the TIGRES, we have neither photo nor video evidence to confirm eyewitness accounts specifically mentioning their presence, but for that matter, neither does the Embassy. As mentioned above, save this video, security forces aggressively prevented any documentation of the eviction. In the Embassy’s reply, they refer to “other police units” in addition to the National Police, the COBRAS, and the anti-riot police. Our partners, in addition to local media reports, uniformly refer to the Military Police of Public Order, the Preventive Police, and the Directorate of Police Investigations (DPI) as being included in these “other police units.”

With such an alarming cocktail of security forces that blur the military-civilian line – and considering the abundant TIGRES presence in similar scenarios documented by Witness for Peace – if MADJ community members mistakenly identified TIGRES where there were none, one could understand how. In an interview conducted by the Honduras IT with Martín Fernandez about security forces, he said that “they change uniforms so often that no one knows who they are. All we know is that to us they are all the same disease.”

And while accuracy in documentation is essential for strategic and effective advocacy, the Embassy’s clarification on this particular matter not only belies the disorienting reality that environmental defenders and human rights activists confront when dealing with Honduran security forces, but amounts to a distinction without a meaningful or reassuring difference.

Individual responses from Embassy officials sometimes included the information that “the United States does not currently work with or support the COBRAS,” yet another armed group who was present at the Pajuiles eviction. Okay. But rather recently they received US SWAT training in intelligence gathering and special ops. The US government presently funds and/or trains the following: National Inter-Institutional Security Forces (FUSINA), the Criminal Investigation Technical Agency (ATIC), the TIGRES, the National Agency of Criminal Investigation (DNIC), and the Urban Crime Prevention and Intervention Units of the National Police. Those units receive or have received training from the following: DEA (recently implicated in the 2012 Ahuas Massacre), the FBI, SWAT, the CIA, the Marines, and Navy Seals.

While it’s welcome news that the US government isn’t currently working with every governmental security agency in Honduras, it’s equally naive to suggest that practices and mentalities neatly obey the porous institutional boundaries that separate them. Like Martín said, when you have armed state actors constantly changing uniforms in an country whose institutions – corroded by corruption – offer impunity to the criminally powerful and criminalize the powerless, the problem isn’t whether or not the COBRAS received US support today, but that continuing to finance and train such groups itself contributes to the suppression of human rights and the targeting of those who defend them.

The Embassy’s response, noting the “outstanding warrants issued by a Honduran judicial authority,” in its way betrays the point. The US Embassy goes to great lengths in meetings with the Honduras IT and Witness for Peace delegations to distance itself from parts of the Honduran armed forces associated with human rights abuses. The US Government doesn’t give aid to those forces. But Honduran judicial authorities are, particularly since the 2009 coup, regularly issuing warrants that amount to human rights abuses, and even security forces that are only doing their jobs in enforcing those warrants are therefore participating. The reality is that there simply is no way to cherry-pick the “good” security forces in Honduras. All police and military aid will necessarily be used for things like the eviction of the non-violent, legal resistance in Pajuiles.

This is why we’re supporting the Berta Cáceres Act, and this is why we hope you will too.