Honduran security forces target and kill protesters while U.S. sits back
On January 22nd, Witness for Peace issued its statement on the attack against Martín Fernández and the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ, or the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) on the night of January 20th. Since then, the level of violence has escalated further still, both in terms of the widespread and systematic human rights violations committed during in the post-election period, as well as in targeted attacks against MADJ.
On Monday night, the same day we published our statement, two people were killed in the part of the country where MADJ does their work. Ramón Fillalos was the local coordinator for MADJ in the town of Arizona and a key part of the community protest at the encampment in Jilamito. Geovany Díaz Carcamo, who was killed on the street in Pajuiles last night, was a regular at the encampment there. We have written before about the community in Pajuiles, where we have had the great honor of accompanying the community in their opposition to an imposed hydroelectric project for more than a year. The murder of leaders from both Pajuiles and Jilamito, the two most prominent communities organized by MADJ on the north coast, within a few hours represents “a clear message,” as a Pajuiles community member told the WfP Honduras team on Tuesday.
Ramón and Geovany’s deaths are tragic on their own, as are the 36 others they join on this macabre list of martyrs to the cause of Honduran democracy. They were also particularly cruel in their own, almost opposite ways. Ramón, who was about 60 years old and has been an activist in the region for decades, was shot in the arm, which should not have been fatal. But the lack of medical attention he received meant he bled to death. Geovany was leaving a protest when security forces identified to WfP by community members as belonging to the DPI (Dirección Policial Investigación, the rough Honduran equivalent of the FBI), a US-backed security force, dragged him from his home back out to the highway and shot him 40 times in front of his screaming mother. It’s not even enough to say Geovany was executed by the police – it more resembled a mob hit, specifically public, meant to be seen. This is the very face of impunity.
At this stage, we almost risk thinking of the abject brutality of the last two months as normal. It’s depressingly easy to get used to the sight of Military Police patrols, and the news about murders and disappearances. But the extent to which this is pervasive stays shocking. Not only are anti-fraud demonstrators facing police repression in the streets with teargas, beatings, and shootings, they are being pursued even into their homes. Simply the presence of several police and military forces with weapons posted up on a bridge or by the road is enough to intimidate people from wanting to peacefully protest. In places where the public has refused to submit to this intimidation, Honduran security forces are sending a message that there will be brutal, often lethal punishment for choosing to protest.
To date, the strongest statement made by the US Embassy on the extensive state violence since the November elections was made on January 17th, during their official statement congratulating Karla Cueva for being named Minister of Human Rights. Although the Embassy finally acknowledged the desperate need for quick and thorough investigation into the litany of crimes committed by Honduran security forces these last couple months, it was still couched in the language of false moral equivalences. Plainly, calling on the Honduran government to refrain from killing its own people in the same breath as reprimanding protesters for not remaining “peaceful” is an immoral distortion of the reality on the ground here.
It is also worth thinking of the context of that statement. The Human Rights Ministry, which Cueva has been tapped by Juan Orlando’s government to head, was created recently as a cabinet-level position in the Honduran government. As we have written many times before, 50% of aid from the US to Honduras is conditioned on Honduras taking “effective steps” toward improving its human rights record, regardless of whether any actual, measurable human rights improvement has been made. The State Department certified that Honduras had met those aims in December, literally at the same time that peaceful protesters were being gunned down in the streets by the Military Police. But the creation of a cabinet-level human rights ministry can and will be used as an “effective step.”
Moreover, the double standard of impunity that we have written about before has only intensified. While the 38 murders and thousands of arbitrary detentions, to say nothing of the forced disappearances and torture, have been met with not even a cursory, public relations investigation, activists and protesters have been arrested, jailed, and their hearings begun within days of their alleged crimes. US Embassy statements that do no more than call on the Honduran justice system to pursue cases ring hollow – the Embassy’s partners in the DPI, Honduran National Police, and Public Ministry have demonstrated repeatedly their lack of interest in justice, and their commitment to impunity, not least for themselves. What is necessary for the immediate cases, and we have to believe the Embassy knows this, is for the Honduran government to allow impartial, international investigators. Juan Orlando Hernández’s government has already denied the OAS this access – where is the Embassy on that?
The United States has recognized the results of an election that international observers in the OAS and European Union refused to certify. It has certified Honduras’s “effective steps” toward improving its human rights records in the midst of a wave of violence that likely amounts to crimes against humanity. It has responded to this inhumanity and increasingly intense questions about its role by proudly posting YouTube videos of Joint Task Force Bravo giving the Honduran military drone training. It has insisted on this narrative of partnership with the Honduran government even when it has become undeniable that the “partners” in question have built from the coup a brutal dictatorship. Its relative silence, its false equivalence, and its euphemistic public declarations (a coordinated campaign of gross human rights violations is instead “wounds in society that appeared during the process”) have legitimized the fraud, and have legitimized the brutality. As U.S. citizens, we have to demand more. We have to demand legitimate respect for democracy, and legitimate respect for human rights. We have to do that even when there’s not an electoral crisis, but we especially have to do it now.
The need for international solidarity is greater than ever, as the crimes the state of Honduras is committing with implicit and explicit US backing are rising to the level of crimes against humanity, if they’re not there already. The chaos and general atmosphere of state violence is being used as a smokescreen for targeted threats against and assassinations of movement leaders. If we are not in solidarity with Honduras now, we have no right to say we ever were.