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June 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update

by Sydney With Honduras Friday, Jul. 17, 2020 at 6:16 AM In June 2020, police assassinated a man at a police checkpoint, police brutally bashed transport workers in protest, a newspaper director goes public about knowing of plans to kill him that come from the state, COVID-19 outbreak in prisons have worsened and impacts on political prisoners, only one of whom had been released during June while over 1600 other prisoners were released for COVID-19 reasons. A number more of health care workers had died of COVID-19 in Honduras and cases shot up during this month to upwards of 20,000 confirmed cases.

June 2020 Honduras coup and pandemic update

June 2020 Honduras Coup Update

Police shot and killed a guy after he did not stop at checkpoint

On 21 June 2020, it was 1.30am, 38 years old Riner Argueta Oliva was driving to his plot of land to get ready to do work there, but he never made it to the land. As he drove, passing the turnoff for Corral Viejo community where a police checkpoint was getting set up – the checkpoint was still putting up cones and still waiting for all the police to arrive to staff it – police unexpectedly signalled for his car to stop. Riner’s brother Adrián said his brother ignored the signal, because he knows about all the police killings and abuses, and would have been suspicious about getting stopped when they have not finished setting up, and drove on. When police saw that he was not stopping, police gunfire was shot, first at his car tyre, and then at him, at the driver’s seat, from behind. Like the news around the world of BLM police brutality stories, locally, people knew of others who have been killed by police for things like driving without a licence or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Witnesses saw that it was the Tigres police operation head Agent Corea who fired the gunshots, but instead of putting him behind the bars, his subordinate police officers Elmer Castellanos, Melvin Murillo, Ruperto Rodríguez and Alex Andara were locked up without bail accused of the killing, whilst Corea not only walks free but had organised himself as a protected ‘witness’ against the other police for the murder of Riner. Two days later, his families and friends gathered in a demo, grieving, and demanding justice for him and for others hurt and killed by police in the area.

Police bashed transport workers in protest

On 23 June 2020, in El Polvorín, San Pedro Sula, workers of transport sector were demonstrating and demanding their right to go out and work to be able to feed their families during this COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Police heavily repressed the workers, who showed no signs of being even a little combative – despite which the police showed no mercy and savagely threw the workers to the ground and kicked and bashed them with batons with no human considerations for them.

El Libertador Newspaper director learned of plans to kill him

On 2 June 2020, an alert came out, that Jhony Lagos, a journalist and director of the El Libertador newspaper, had heard from high ranking police and soldiers about plans to kill him coming from dark forces of executive power. His sources told him to take extra care and strict measures for his safety. He was told that his name is on a black list that was given the go ahead two months ago. He had known that he was being followed. El Libertador is a newspaper that was founded 17 years ago that publishes stories of resistance, human rights violations and state corruption. Jhony said that if anything happens to him, his family or workmates, that the Honduran state is responsible for the attack. The state recognises him as a persecuted person and officially he receives protection but many who received such protection had nonetheless been assassinated. Jhony and his partner had suffered a lot of persecution and attacks over years.

Political prisoners

COFADEH human rights organisation continued throughout June and prior months in advocating for the release of all groups and individual political prisoners in relation to their imprisonment exposing them to COVID-19 contagion risks. These requests kept getting knocked back by the courts. On 2 June 2020, this risk directly affected the largest group of political prisoners – the eight environmental defenders of Guapinol held at Olanchito prison, where the first case of confirmed COVID-19 at this prison was admitted by the Honduran authorities. Despite this, the Guapinol political prisoners remained locked up throughout June, and meanwhile, the mining company that they organised against, Inversiones Los Pinares, and Ecotek of Lenir Pérez and Ana Facusse, continued operating in impunity and causing contamination to the rivers and protected area of Montaña de Botaderos National Park.

In Tegucigalpa, Rommel, the political prisoner of the struggle for public health and education, a young teacher charged with burning tyres outside the US Embassy, had been locked up for one year now, having spent the first five months in maximum security prison, and was subsequently transferred to Mario Mendoza psychiatric hospital with anxiety and depression. Rommel is getting worse in hospital, and with the pandemic, his family had lost contact with him because of strict controls, that had also disallowed their families from passing him food through the staff. The family only receives news of how Rommel is doing from the hospital security staff. His initial hearing was scheduled for 16 April 2020, but that was suspended indefinitely because of the pandemic, leaving him in limbo, leaving his family extremely worried about him, wanting his imprisonment to be be all over so he can be reunited with his family and begin to heal.

On 16 June 2020, 1624 prisoners were released on bail or had their sentences commuted, or were released for health reasons, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the prisons. None of the political prisoners were included in this release.

On 21 June 2020, it was reported that there had been over 120 confirmed cases amongst inmates in prisons in Honduras, and about five had died, with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 (prisoners are also affected by dengue, flu, chicungunya and TB.

On 27 June 2020, the first political prisoner was released during this pandemic, Felipe Esquivel was freed and had reunited with his family, with everybody wearing masks. Felipe was imprisoned since 19 December 2020, when military police raided his home in search of his partner, Aleida, an organiser of Bastion del Sur, and arrested him instead, for opposing the JOH regime, when they couldn’t find her. Felipe is relieved and happy to be with his family, having lived with daily uncertainty along with other prisoners in the Choluteca prison for the past six months. ‘Being enclosed in a prison like the case of being in Choluteca prison, is an odyssey, because the conditions are inhospitable and everyone longs for support there. Thanks to Cofadeh and my family, I had this morale and emotional and also legal and sometimes economic backing, so I thank Cofadeh for also having been with us, I am very grateful’ Felipe said that the last 3 months were the hardest, and he took the opportunity to speak up about the subhuman conditions that are lived in the prison. ‘It is a very difficult situation because the threat of the pandemic outbreak that was looming was with us prisoners, who don’t have even the minimal protection, not even a simple disposable mask, the government didn’t give us even that, and some medias said that they had already given us masks, hand sanitiser, and all that to the prisoners. I am a witness and I can declare to whereever that they never gave us even a mask, let alone hand sanitiser. The medical attention is bad, shocking. You had to go buzzing a gate three to four consecutive days in a roll to be attended, and when one arrives to where the doctor is, they tell you that you don’t have anything, you are fine, some compas have high fevers, and the doctors would tell them that they were okay too. Also, the overcrowding is a very difficult situation that is lived, I have information that the prison was designed for 400 persons and in this moment there are more than a thousand, that means that in many prison cells 30-35 sleep on the concrete floor, there are not even foam mattresses for them to sleep peacefully and rest. Everything is hard. The water is very limited during the summer, they need an extra water well there.’ Around that date, over 300 prisoners were sick, families weren’t allowed to bring them medicines, and amongst the sick prisoners, are some of many sleeping on concrete floors, and there may be COVID-19 cases amongst them too. That nightmare and epoca ended for Felipe, but there are other political prisoners still locked up and cannot see their families.

COVID-19 Update

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Honduras increased drastically from 5362 cases on 1 June 2020 to 19558 cases on 30 June 2020, with likely many more unconfirmed cases because of limited access to testing. By 1 July 2020, total number of COVID-19 deaths in Honduras reached 497.

COVID-19 deaths of health care workers

Since the beginning, sad news of deaths of Honduran health care workers had occurred every ten or so days. Many others including high profile front line doctors have tested positive (with over 800 health care workers having tested positive by 19 June 2020).

On 1 June 2020, microbiologist of HEU teaching university hospital in Tegucigalpa, Julio Licona died in his home, on this day, the JOH regime announced an ‘intelligent reopening’ of the economy – easing restrictions within the formal economy.

On 19 June 2020, anaesthesia technical specialist Carlos Dubón, died from COVID-19.

On 20 June 2020, Dr Alexis Javier Reyes Amaya, who was in 2010-2012 the president of the Medical Association of Honduras, had died of COVID-19, having declared, ‘I caught it serving the people’, and while sick, he called out for people to feel no shame in having caught COVID-19, saying that the shame should be felt instead by those who contract the PPE supplies that never arrive to the hospitals’ Alexis never stopped to struggle in defence of public health and against the indifference of the JOH regime that never ceased to launder funds that are meant for enabling the safer provision of health services.

On 28 June 2020, Dr Carleene Hurst of Choluteca, also died of COVID-19.

The working conditions of health care workers in Honduras continue to be appalling, with evidentially far from adequate protection.

Journalists affected by COVID-19

On 31 May 2020 in Cortés, sports journalist Jacobo Carías who was COVID-19 positive and had kidney problems died, after having been denied dialysis treatment on 25 May 2020. He was sent to get blood and chests exams first – that he had to pay for. He was sent for exams because the dialysis department was not treating patients suspected of or positive COVID-19 and he had a high fever. Morever, results of tests can take up to 15 days, placing patients, like Jacobo, at risk.

In Choluteca alone, about 15 journalists had caught COVID-19.

JOH and other politicians hospitalised

On 16 June 2020, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced that he and his wife had tested positive to COVID-19, along with two others who worked for them. The following day, the 51-year-old JOH was hospitalized after doctors determined he had pneumonia. As he had planned and got approval from the congress, he was treated in the military hospital with doctors dedicated to his care (with far greater care than other Hondurans in critical conditions including frontline health care workers), and was put on a drip of microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc that his government is promoting. He was released from the hospital July 2.

There were questions about whether JOH might had strategised to avoid a special congress session on 25 June 2020, a session that some legislators had called for to abolish the penal code the social organisations have protested against for a long time. During the same zoom session, with 67 parliamentarians participating, it was announced that the congress president was also in a critical state, tubed up to breathe, also being attended to in the military hospital.

On 28 June 2020, a vice parliamentarian, lawyer Rafael Arita, of Copán, died of COVID-19 in a private clinic in San Pedro Sula.

Where are the hospitals we bought?

That is one of the questions on the lips of health care workers. Amongst the COVID-19 projects the Honduran government had contracted on 13 March 2020 was one of US.4 millions for seven mobile isolation hospitals. On closer look the hospitals were to be built in Turkey but paid for by US company ELMED. The described hospitals are exactly those manufactured by SDI Global LLC, whom ELMED had sought a quote for, but never made the purchase. These hospitals were nowhere to be seen in Honduras. SID Global LLC management committee president Michael Murphy gave an exclusive interview to ElPulso.Hn media, in which Michael complained about ELMED and its director and owner Axel G López, in US and Turkey. Of the budget, while no hospitals had been sent to Honduras, nor signs of them being on the way, there was on the other hand, little doubt that the flights and hotel quarantine in US had been spent for Honduran officials organising this ‘purchase’.

On paper, there are many contracts, with many companies, but hospitals continue to be sites of contagion for health care workers and patients, and there is never adequate equipment nor PPE’s. Frontline worker Dr Osmin Trovar said, ‘There was not even one new diffusion pump, nor monitor, I had to find monitors from other hospital areas. The pressure gauges for oxigen I had taken them from the dengue ward, from paediatric wards, from the internal medicine wards’ The name of the government COVID-19 response fund was also meant to address welfare needs to help contain the pandemic, but the demands of transport workers and market workers continue to be, ‘let us work to feed our families.’ They would also be very happy to be assisted to carry out their work safely and use PPEs. Or stay at home if the government provided what their families needed for survival until the pandemic is over. Neither of these are provided, and 50-60% of the economy of Latin American countries are of informal economy, so the desperation is extreme.

And, this above is a picture of the 4th quarantine centre for returned migrants (from Mexico and US), from the Honduran government’s own promotional website. Is this a place where migrants would safely be able to socially distance and be free of COVID-19 after 14 days to reunite with their families, or is this where those who hadn’t contracted COVID-19 yet would catch it from others and then perhaps go home with COVID-19?
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