July 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update
Living under a dictatorship regime where global and national capital, together with regime leaders, continue to profit through laundering and exploiting the people and the land – when you put a pandemic into that equation it’s a disaster, as we can see in Honduras. Government offers no protection for its poor majority, the money officially designated for healthcare doesn’t translate into actual healthcare, and there is no welfare to enable people to stay home, but the military is controlling the streets and spreading the illness. Communities and organisations continue to campaign for the ‘Where is the money?’ campaign, with voices reverberating from zoom conferences, to managing to stage large letters across highways, printing the question on roads for drivers to see, and on walls for passers-by – people must have found holes in the militarisation. They paint their pained words about losing increasing numbers of fellow Hondurans to death from COVID-19, lives lost due to government’s greed and lies. This July 2020 we saw many attacks against people and organisers, and we continue to see that on the other hand, big businesses that don’t even have environmental permits are free to move around, operate, and act in ways that are harmful to people and environment. And similar to discourse familiar to all of us worldwide about balancing the economy over staying home, this regime, like others, is broadcasting that the nation only has a chance of surviving the pandemic, if ‘development (mega) projects’ of mining, logging, energy etc go ahead and if people also put up with low wages (not to mention threats, killings, and arrests to impose opposed projects) so that large profits can be made from them. International development finance organisations also continue to ignore the violence meted out by capital and by the regime and fuel this fire, passing loans to the regime and ignoring cries from communities who dream of a different kind of ‘development’.
On 1 July 2020, there were 20,262 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a total death toll of 521. By 31 July 2020, the confirmed cases went up by more than double, with 42,014 confirmed cases, and the death toll a lot more than doubled, having reached 1337 deaths to COVID-19 by this date. During July daily new case numbers ranged between 406 and 1042. Remember the lack of welfare available to people, the very real daily economic pressures to work, the overcrowding of family homes that may also have poor access to water, making self isolation impossible, and on top of that, energy bills and grocery costs only increased, public staff as usual are paid months late, and thousands of other workers lost their jobs. And as well as COVID-19 and the dictatorship, people are dealing with tropical storms, and dengue.
Prisoners, political prisoners and COVID-19 contagion inside prisons. David Romero dies of Covid-19 in prison.
By 18 July 2020, contagion in the prisons had become severe, and a high profile anti-coup anti-corruption journalist and director of Radio Globo – David Romero, who was politically imprisoned from the 2015 defamation case against prosecutor Sonia Gálvez (found guilty and sentenced to 10 years as of 28 March 2019), had died from COVID-19 in prison, after having had COVID-19 symptoms for five days. He was only finally hospitalised on 5 July 2020 when his partner and fellow journalist Lidieth Díaz spoke up about his need to be in hospital. David suffered several respiratory strokes before dying in hospital on 18 July 2020. David was someone who spoke up against the dictatorship. David was also someone who was accused of rape against his daughter. Whether as a martyr and political prisoner, or as someone who abused his daughter, he should not have been denied healthcare, nor exposed to the pandemic contagion inside the prison. Following his death, there was a caravan of people demanding justice.
By around the same date, there were 1055 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Honduran prisons from ‘fast tests’, and a further 838 confirmed COVID-19 cases from swab tests, and cases were identified in 20 of Honduras’s 28 prisons, within a total prison population of approximately 22,000. At least 25 people had died with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in prison, like David Romero. There were other deaths in prisons too in the same time period, from massacres for instance – 11, including 7 women, died from having been killed by others. Amongst the prisoners are a large portion of people who have not yet been sentenced after having been denied bail, including the eight political prisoners of Guapinol, the young teacher Rommel Baldemar Herrera, and young Victor Castillo. All their lives are at risk and campaigns continue for political prisoners to be released before more of them die – at this stage only one political prisoner had been released since the pandemic began. The conditions during isolation due to lack of visits are severe, as are reports of increased torture by military forces inside prisons.
Outside, the streets are also under military control and there has been a number of forced disappearances under conditions of curfew.
Organisers and human rights defenders persecuted under pandemic conditions
Young organiser threatened, killed
Marvin Damián Castro Molina, a 29 year old organiser who organised young people’s networks in Valle and Choluteca, who is well known in social struggle scenes, had received death threats, and had told the authorities about these and the fear he had for his life, about one week before 12 July 2020. On this date his family saw Marvin take a call, then they didn’t see him again and people began looking for him. On the next day, 13 July 2020, his body was found in the Sacamil River in the Agua Tibia community. He had been bashed in the head and then thrown into the river. The same afternoon, his grief stricken family, friends and compas buried his body. Marvin was the president of the Pespirense Youth Network, which coordinated the Pespirense Development Association of Honduras, and was also the youth committee coordinator of MASSVida Environmentalist and Social Movement of the South For Life.
Marvin Damian Castro
Where are the Four Black Garífuna Leaders Abducted and Disappeared by Police?
On 18 July 2020, at 6am, a group of armed men wearing bullet proof vests raided and pulled out four Garífuna compas and siblings from their own homes, including Triunfo de la Cruz community leader and community committee president Alberth Sneider Centeno, Milton Joel Martínez Alvarez, Suamy Aparicio Mejía and Gerardo Trochez.
Early on 20 July 2020, the Garífuna Triunfo de la Cruz community self organised and made noise about the disappearances by barricading the CA13 highway, demanding that the five be released alive. This community faced threats of repression from the police that day, and saw the police militarising and getting ready to repress instead of seeming to investigate the disappearances. For many nights, the Triunfo de la Cruz community faced terror and intimidation from vehicles entering the community in the nights with heavily armed people inside. On 21 July 2020, neighbouring Garífuna communities protested in solidarity with the disappeared compas of the Triunfo de la Cruz community also barricading their points of the C-13 highway, and at 10.20am, the Sambo Creek community had been protesting since early that morning holding up signs, burning tyres and expressing their demands, when police charged at and chased them with batons and teargas bombs. Protesters said ‘we are showing the rage and pain that we feel with the abduction of our brothers of Triunfo de la Cruz. We don’t know if they are alive or dead, all we know is that they were kidnapped by people in police investigative uniforms who arrived to that community in four cars’.
The Garífuna people of Honduras have suffered a lot of killings and attacks. They know it comes from when Miguel Facussé, the palm giant, was alive – he flew in a private jet with Rafael Ferri over the Tela Bay areas, and they talked in the air about their dreams of placing 5 star hotels, touristic golf clubs, etc all over to squeeze out maximum profits. They dreamt happily except for the part where they knew that there are Black Garífuna people who have lived in these places ancestrally who would not willingly be dispossessed of their lands to make way for these capitalist ventures gearing towards rich tourists. However, these two powerful rich businesspersons had under their thumbs the dictatorship regime that supplies them with requested laws, hitmen, soldiers, finance and lobbying in order to attack Black people, destroy their land titles, divide Black people, contaminate the rivers, etc. In the case of the four disappeared 1980s-death-squad-style on 18 July 2020, all four were members of community land committees. The regime tries to create rumours about the four having simply travelled to other countries. The people know better. They know from reports from different provinces of Honduras about armed groups that have been created to during this COVID-19 lockdown period to eliminate land, environmental and social defenders who are in the way of capitalist and dictatorship projects. Because these groups exist, and because streets are under military control with COVID-19 curfews, during lockdown, it is clear the military either carried out the abductions themselves, or knew about the movements of other armed groups and let them pass through checkpoints asking no questions, and therefore are responsible by association.
On 30 July 2020, four bodies were found in Tela Atlantida. People demanded autopsies… they could be Alberth, Milton, Suamy and Gerardo, but they may well be other people, with violent deaths not uncommon. This is occuring in the context of the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) struggle, and Garífunas lives are Black lives – GBLM.
University security worker who struggled for collective work rights assassinated on his way home from the demo
On 13 July 2020 – as reported by students of UNAH, CURLA campus in La Ceiba – 51 year old security guard Oscar Obdulio Turcios Fúnes who worked at that campus and belonged to the SITRAUNAH university workers union, was participating in a protest on campus demanding the backpay of unpaid salaries, for their contract conditions to be fulfilled, to be supplied with PPE and to be able to work in a socially distanced environment. Protest organisers asked people who could not attend the protest because they were staying home, to send messages to the radio, tv, and on social media, demanding that workers at universities and hospitals and schools be paid. It was on Oscar’s way home after the protest that he was murdered.
Death threats against indigenous organiser
During July 2020, the women’s coordinator of MILPAH – Lenca Indigenous independent movement of La Paz Honduras, María Felicita López, had received a death threat on her mobile phone, with the message, ‘you will die, daughter of a big bitch’. On 24 July 2020, the attacks escalated from telephone death threats (she had received many attacks and threats before that message), to encountering hooded persons armed with machetes on a road that she and a relative were going to pass through. This is in the context of increasing attacks against Indigenous peoples in Honduras.
Indigenous land defender sentenced to 4 years in prison
On 29 July 2020, Pedro Amaya, a Lenca Indigenous defender who was arrested for and when working on land that was supposedly forestry land. He was preparing the land to grow corn and basic grains to feed his family. He told the court, ‘I was working on this parcel of land, like my ancesters had taught me to. To produce on land like this is an ancestral practice of my people and is not a crime.’ The judge saw his standing up for his Indigenous rights and ways as a defiance that must be punished and sentenced him to four years of prison – human rights organisations are fighting to appeal this.
Hate crime – trans human rights defender killed
On 14 July, unidentified people who drove in a grey tourist van without numberplates through El Arbolito, Barrio Plazuela in Tegucigalpa that night approached and shot several times at Scarlett Cambell and fled the scene. Scarlett was a trans woman and sex worker, and before she was shot, she was on the street with other compañeras looking for sex work clients. Scarlett was rushed to hospital but died in hospital hours after being shot. Scarlett belonged to the Rainbow Dolls Association, and was a well-known trans women’s rights and human rights defender especially in relation to the access to health services and equal opportunities. In Honduras, so far in 2020, 11 queer persons have been assassinated including 5 trans people, 5 gay men, and 1 lesbian.
An organiser who organised against state plunder of COVID-19 funds died of COVID-19
On 15 July, human rights defender Agustín Díaz Medina died in the Gabriela Alvarado hospital due to COVID-19. Agustín was involved in organising to protest the corruption of the dictatorship having plundered hospitals and made them bare of resources meant for dealing with COVID-19. It was likely that Agustín had received inadequate care in the hospital – low on supplies, beds, oxygen tanks, tests, staffing, and protection for staffing. Agustín had been part of social movements for a long time, he was part of the National Popular Resistance Front FNRP when the coup began. Many are very sad to lose him.
Police arrested youths for having protested against police having fired gunshots
On 20 July, in Ceibita, Santa Barbara, a group of youths were gathering on the community football field when police fired gunshots in the air in a show of psychopathic endangerment. When the youths Marco Stanley Zamora Fernández and Oscar Danilo Cáceres protested in outrage about the police intimidation and having put their lives at risk by playing with their guns, the police’s response was to arrest them. Other youths managed to flee.
At least 4 health care workers died of COVID-19 this month, rural health care workers are in desperation, health care workers in general are gagged, and one frontline COVID-19 ward doctor who was involved in organising was fired
On 5 July 2020, Dr Luis Reyes Jerezano died of COVID19.
dr luis reyes jerezano
On 6 July 2020, the Medical Association of Honduras urged for the maquiladora (foreign-owned factory) industry in San Pedro Sula to be closed, with the region having a high number of infections and the health system there under collapse.
On 12 July 2020, the Medical Association of Honduras grieves the loss of another colleague, María Elena Espinal, who worked in the laboratory of Hospital Del Sur.
Maria Elena Espinal
On 15 July 2020, paediatrician Oscar Arturo Ney Rivera, who is affectionately referred to as Dr Ney by the community, died of COVID-19. The community also grieved the loss of another very good doctor.
On 16 July 2020, Dr Adalberto Mejía died in San Pedro Sula of COVID-19, and was the ex-director of Santa Barbara hospital.
dr adalberto mejia
Health care workers in isolated areas are especially desperate, with inadequate space, equipment, PPE, staffing, etc, to attend to patients with COVID-19. For instance, in La Mosquitia, the hospital has 12 COVID-19 patients admitted with 5 in a critical state, without any access to oxygen tanks.
On 17 July 2020, in Cortés, there was official state communication from the region’s area health director, Dinorah Nolasco, prohibiting the region’s health coordinators from giving information to human rights defenders, journalists and even prosecutors, about conditions of the health systems, unless they were on a designated list of 12 people whom she had nominated to be spokespersons, gagging everyone else who works under the terrible hospital conditions.
On 28 July 2020, Dr Angel Lenin Flores, a frontline worker in the COVID-19 ward of Leonardo Martínez hospital, San Pedro Sula, Cortés, was fired after having spoken up with other colleagues about the inadequate PPE – including masks – for entering the COVID-19 wards, about overdue wage and allowances payments, and about supervisors who yell at, laugh at and insult the frontline workers. He received a letter from the head of ‘development of human talent’, Dinora Caballero Merino, advising that his contract at the hospital was not going to be renewed as of 1 August 2020. He had seen it coming that he was going to be fired for speaking up. Them firing a frontline worker under extreme pandemic conditions for protesting is ludicrous. Before being fired, he worked around the clock under an exploitative and inhumane rostering system. As well as extremely overworked, their work was also extremely dangerous, the COVID-19 ward team having had several healthcare worker deaths from COVID-19 already.
Two assassinated journalists
On 1 July 2020, at Residencial El Naranjal, La Ceiba, a journalist German Gerardo Vallecillo Chávez (aged 41) and cameraperson Jorge Posas (aged 27) of the local Canal 45 TV station were assassinated, during curfew, by attackers with firearms. Working in a region heavily hit by COVID-19, German Vallecillo ‘Vallecillo Junior’, who has a dad – also a journalist, with the same name, worked hard to promote actions of solidarity and against stigmatisation of people who have COVID-19. German was very much seen as an ‘influencer’. German’s father was expecting to have lunch with him this day, because it was German’s birthday and the plan was to have a family lunch celebration. He was very popular and received many birthday greetings on facebook at 7am that morning and at that time he wrote that he wouldn’t be able to answer all the messages in one day even if he were to dedicate the day to do that. German never came to lunch. Before lunch that day footage emerged from video cameras showing armed men in another car intercepting the vehicle Vallecillo and Posas were in, shooting at both of them several times – they both died immediately. Five suspects had been arrested for the murders. The father said he forgave the assassin of his son.
German-y-Jorge-periodistas la ceiba julio 2020
Journalist arrested for kindness
On 23 July 2020, in Omoa, Puerto Cortés, journalist Mauricio, for having been kind and inviting two people to have breakfast on him, the pair having returned to Honduras after being deported from the US, was arrested by police.
Police inaction on persecution against journalist
On 26 July 2020, in Nacaome, Valle, journalist Leonel García was driving home after visiting his daughter at 7.30pm when he saw that a white Nissan car registered to Nacaome council was following him. When he was at the police highway checkpoint, he reported that he was being followed to the police, describing the car behind him. When the police spoke to that car behind him, they only asked him who the car belonged to, and let him drive on without further questions.
Journalists who died of covid-19 this month
On 2 July 2020, well loved journalist, Francis Jackeline Bojorquez, of Choluteca, died in hospital during the night with suspected COVID-19. She had worked in Radio América, Radio Valle for over 25 years. Quite a few journalists had been infected with COVID-19 in the region.
journalist francis jojorquez
Earlier on the same day, midday of 2 July 2020, the journalist who is the head of Hable como Habla (HCH), Pablo Gerardo Matamoros, died of COVID-19 having been diagnosed as COVID-19-positive two weeks before. Quite a few journalists of HCH had made public that they were infected with COVID-19, with some that had recovered already. HCH has been, in the last few years, very notorious for their support of the dictatorship and repression, against dissent.
On 26 July 2020, print, radio and tv journalist, who last worked at Centro de Noticias tv station, Edilberto Zelaya, died with suspected COVID-19, at the National Cardiopulmonary hospital of Tegucigalpa.
edilberto zelaya periodista covid julio 2020
Penal code repealed
Finally and officially, on 3 July 2020, the much protested penal code was repealed in parliament.
Previous regime president wife guilty of corruption crimes might escape imprisonment
On 23 July 2020, Rosa Elena de Lobo along with Saúl Escobar, who had been charged with corruption crimes plundering over 16 million lempiras that were supposed to be spent on social welfare, was sentenced to 58 years of prison, but she is freed on bail while the sentencing court revises sentence measures in future court hearings.