KGNU’S Tim Russo reports from Honduras. He witnessed some of the threats and violence against Honduran community organizers and activists that have surged in the last two months.
Many journalists have reported threats, some have been attacked in legal proceedings, while others have fled the country. A journalist from the Lenca community radio station La Voz de Zacate Grande on the western Honduran coast was attacked by a man with a machete on January 26, 2015. Miguel Angel Vasquez was hit in the forehead and on the back of the head requiring thirty stitches. The community radio journalist and land rights advocate has received numerous death threats. He was stabbed in the chest in an ambush near his home in mid-December.
The headquarters of the Via Campesina land rights alliance in the Honduran capital city of Tegucigalpa was hit with twenty bullets in an early morning attack on January 25, 2015. An Afro-Honduran Garifuna community leader was wounded in the head and arm on January 22, 2015 when a group of Garifuna land rights activists were attacked by gunmen from a criminal cartel that operates a clandestine landing strip in the rural department of Atlantida.
KGNU’s Tim Russo was accompanying the group of indigenous land rights activists whose caravan was assaulted by an armed mob who had blocked the road with a barricade of burning tires.
The incident occurred on January 27, 2015, when the angry mob stopped the bus carrying a group of land rights movement leaders who had met with community members in the conflictive Rio Blanco region in northwestern Honduras.
Bertha Caceres, the internationally-known leader of the Honduran Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) was the principle target of an armed mob that stopped the caravan she was traveling with and demanded that she be handed over. Caceres — a prominent indigenous rights advocate — was targeted after a gathering in the western Honduran region of Rio Blanco where COPINH is leading a campaign to stop construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project on the Gualcarque River. (see http://www.kgnu.org/earlymorning/11/25/2013 for previous coverage) The indigenous leader was accompanied by international observers including School of the Americas Watch and reporters who represented various media outlets including KGNU, PBS, Free Speech Radio News, and the international community radio resource center Comppa.
On January 27, 2015 the caravan of some sixty COPINH organizers, supporters, human rights observers, and journalists were stopped at a barricade of burning tires and held at gunpoint for over an hour on a muddy road leading out of the small town of Agua Caliente. The unruly crowd was largely composed of employees of the Honduran, Canadian, and US energy companies that are building two hydroelectric projects on the nearby Canjel River.
The members of the noisy crowd forced their way onto the bus searching for Caceres, who had remained in Rio Blanco after a stream of anonymous death threats arrived on her cellphone. The indigenous leader has been the beneficiary of Preventive Security Measures since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Honduran government to take special precautions to guarantee her safety. Caceres contacted the Honduran National Human Rights Ombudsman, who advised her to call the National Security Minister, former army general Julian Pacheco.
Caceres was shocked at the suggestion that she request protection from former general Pacheco because he is one of the largest land owners in the Agua Caliente-Rio Blanco region, who is buying and selling the land where the foreign corporations are building the hydroelectric projects. Caceres said that to request security from the ex-general would be like handing herself over to the kidnappers.
Members of the US delegation spent hours calling the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. When their calls were answered, embassy personnel placed the callers — who identified themselves as US citizens — on hold and did not return. After three hours of attempted contact, US embassy personnel advised one US citizen caller to “sit out the road block”. During this time, US caravan participants contacted their home organizations stateside, asking them to pressure the State Department, who directly contacted the US embassy.
In the early hours of the 28th the US embassy contacted the National Police to request that it send troops to guarantee that the US citizens made it through the roadblocks unharmed. The group of three cars with international observers accompanying Caceres left Rio Blanco after receiving the assurances that they would have police protection.
Upon arriving at Aguacaliente in the afternoon of the 28th, the three vehicles were stopped by nearly two hundred people who had chained the road despite the presence of twenty police officers. After a heated thirty-minute discussion, town leaders agreed to a meeting with COPINH on February 7, 2015 to discuss the geographical location of the projects being built by the Blue Energy Corporation. The three cars — with Caceres hiding in one of them — was then able to leave the area along with the first part of the caravan that had been detained the day before.
According to COPINH, the hydroelectric installations are located on ancestral land titles in the department of Intibuca while the dam’s supporters claim that they are actually located in the department of Santa Barbara. Police and employees of the hydroelectric projects in the region are responsible for the deaths of at least four members of COPINH who were gunned down while protesting the usurpation of traditional community lands for privatized hydroelectric projects over the last two years.
The Blue Energy projects had not been the targets of COPINH resistance, but they quickly became a focal point of protest after this latest series of aggressions towards Caceres.