Emily and Larry attended a course with me in El Salvador, Peacebuilding and Spirituality, in May 2013.
Dear Congressman McGovern,
We are writing to express concern over the ongoing situation in Honduras as the elections on November 24, 2013 quickly approach, and to urge the United States to act in ways that will support an unhindered democratic process. As theological students at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, we recently spent a week in El Salvador as part of a course on peace-making, listening to the voices of people from Honduras and El Salvador, including Jose Chencho Alas and Nery Murillo. After learning first-hand about the current threat to democracy in Honduras, as well as your record of support for human rights issues in Central America, we have decided to write you to strongly urge a fact-finding mission, an electoral oversight process, and potentially a Congressional hearing, to protect the LIBRE party and other potential leaders from harm, and safeguard the election from being pre-empted by another coup d’état or election irregularities.
At the heart of this concern is the long history of human rights, land ownership and control issues, and the use of illegal means to suppress and eliminate voices of opposition and the peasants’ seeking justice and quality of life.
The situation in Honduras is unstable and largely ignored, as living conditions degrade, crime rises rapidly, and the murder rate remains one of the highest for any country in the world. Honduras suffers from a shortage of sources to address these issues: Their police forces lack critical training and are significantly short-staffed.[i] The situation is so bad that even the two strongest gangs in the country have called a truce in order to reduce the high level of violence.[ii] International human rights observers have noted the role of the military and police in the killing, repression and displacement of peasants trying to protect their land rights in the face of mining corporations and rich landowners. For instance in Rio Blanco the unstable situation is deteriorating, as Defensores en linea writes: “in particular the militarization of the area and the recent accusations made in the Honduran media against members of the Lenca indigenous community… supported by the police and the companies Sinohydro and DECA who seek to build a dam near the community of Rio Blanco. Already there has been bloodshed and there was a high risk of a bloodbath in the near future.”[iii] The article “Honduran Killing Fields” (June 6, 2013) states that, “Since the military coup of 2009, over 100 campesinos have been murdered, but this statistic does not account for disappeared persons.”[iv]
Since the coup that occurred in 2009, a significant number of political killings have occurred, including the deaths of reporters.[v] While the Honduran government places responsibility on gangs and drug-related violence, this is not the full story.[vi] At the same time, the “War on Drugs” of the United States not only brings American soldiers to Honduran soil, but provides justification for Honduran militarization. In a recent public address, the Honduran president suggested that the military presence on the streets was a needed safety measure against gangs,[vii] a convenient excuse for creating conditions that maintain the current political.
The Honduran political climate is being employed to maintain the interests of large landowners and corporations over the lives and livelihoods of others.[viii] A 2011 article by Food First Action and Information Network lists the killing and wounding of several peasants and echoes a sentiment found throughout the Spanish language human rights websites: “This uncontrolled violence holds the population in terror and creates a feeling of powerlessness in the human rights defenders, especially in the Lower Aguan region where the spilling of blood is the order of the day.”[ix] When the peasants who have been displaced and robbed of the use of any land persist in their efforts at farming wherever they can, “they face persecution, torture, imprisonment and even murder.”[x] The power of the government, backed by the multi-national corporations is absolute. LIBRE presidential candidate Xiomara Castro states that “Honduras doesn’t need patches, but changes from the roots,” and that “The two-party system has made the country into a stage for narcotics traffickers and paramilitaries where justice is bought and sold. What has the two-party system brought us? In the first place, violence, the greatest in the world, furthermore, ignorance, hunger, inequality and other sufferings, it has left us a fiscal abyss that has no precedent in our country.”[xi]
Honduras is now in an untenable situation, unable to train a professional police force to keep the peace in this violent land. In March 2013 the U.S. terminated their assistance in creating a more reliable police force.[xii] Whenever peaceful demonstrations for land reform and an end to abuses are held, the protestors are labelled terrorists, although ConexHion notes that, "The only weapons of fire that our delegation saw during the entire time we were present in the community were the high-caliber weapons of the army, police, private security guards.”[xiii] In addition, in a report on the Honduran death squads Council on Hemispheric Affairs notes, “Two of the country’s most prominent human rights attorneys, Antonio Trejo and Manuel Diaz were murdered in September of 2012, and other lawyers have been persuaded by bribes or death threats to mend their principled ways.”[xiv] Concerns about further violence are not unfounded, as last November, LIBRE mayoral candidate Adalid Motiňo was killed.[xv] The security in the Honduran region is continuing to deteriorate and without assistance, this situation will remain irresolvable.[xvi]
Taken together, the political, security, and economic conditions comprise a context where there is significant danger that the results of the upcoming fall election will be forced, or that the election will not occur because of a second coup, established through military control. Recent polls show that the LIBRE party is ahead in the polls[xvii], which increases the danger of the democratic process being thwarted by those currently in power in a variety of ways, through:
· electoral fraud;
· death threats or the deaths of those running against the current government; and/or
· prevention of the election by claiming there is not enough money to run the election or holding a coup d’état that postpones the election.
These fears were expressed to us by Jose Chencho Alas and Nery Murillo.
We urge you to exert pressure in order to ensure that the democratic will of the people of Honduras can be fulfilled in an open and fair election this fall. We hope that the United States will engage in fact-finding work in Honduras and then refuse economic and political support to the governing party, and any groups, that allow intimidation, violence, fraud, or military force to influence the outcome, as well as working actively to promote fair election protocols and human and land rights protections.
Emily Gordon and Larry Schneider
N.B. Please note that all English translations from the Spanish sources have been done by Larry Schneider. Please excuse any awkwardness of phrasing in them.
[ii] http://resistenciahonduras.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5622:honduran-gangs-claim-truce-but-police-and-military-still-deadly&catid=101:news&Itemid=349 June 2, 2013