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August 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update

by Sydney With Honduras Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2020 at 11:55 AM

This August 2020, we see Honduran people continue to suffer the lack of healthcare and the militarisation under the pandemic, with stories of majorly blatant examples of the dictatorship’s approach to people, arresting and killing a 74 year old healthy man for ‘breaking the curfew’ outside his own home, disappearing a 16 year old whose family had been involved in ‘Where is the Money?’ campaigns, and arresting a COVID-19 frontline doctor, preventing his delivery of an oxygen tank to a patient who needed it, the doctor being someone critical of the JOH dictatorship regime.

August 2020 Honduras coup and pandemic update

This August 2020, we see Honduran people continue to suffer the lack of healthcare and the militarisation under the pandemic, with stories of majorly blatant examples of the dictatorship’s approach to people, arresting and killing a 74 year old healthy man for ‘breaking the curfew’ outside his own home, disappearing a 16 year old whose family had been involved in ‘Where is the Money?’ campaigns, and arresting a COVID-19 frontline doctor, preventing his delivery of an oxygen tank to a patient who needed it, the doctor being someone critical of the JOH dictatorship regime.

Honduras has the worst Covid-19 recovery rates in the world, at no.184

On 7 August 2020, a report on recovery rates of 184 countries was released. Honduras was no. 184, with a recovery rate at this time of 8.18%, with 70.65% of confirmed cases becoming severe cases. In calculating the comparisons, they take into account the number of confirmed cases, number of recovered persons, how long do recoveries take, what % of known cases became severe cases, and deaths. It can mean there are numerous unconfirmed cases in the community, and also, that more people develop severe cases and many die due to the atrocious healthcare and welfare situation, which also means more people have chronic health conditions in the first place and are more vulnerable to developing severe COVID-19, due to various life conditions.

The confirmed cases like in July, increased by about 20,000 in August, going from 42,685 confirmed cases on 1 August to 61,014 on 31 August. The total COVID-19 death toll was 1368 on 1 August, went up to 1712 by 31 August, showing several hundred had died of COVID-19 during August in Honduras. On 1 August, it was reported that 5694 had recovered in total, and 1374 were hospitalised, 335 of whom are in critical condition, with 43 in ICUs. On 31 August, it was noted that 10,396 had recovered in total, and 909 were hospitalised, 169 of whom were in critical condition. Note the number of persons in critical condition is always far greater than the number of persons in ICU – presumably due to lack of capacity and resources because of laundering of COVID-19 funds.

Another notable point from the Honduran public COVID-19 data, is that on 31 August 1712 new tests were done, from which, 840 new positive results. This very high percentage of positive results suggests that the tests are not freely available and that many more are likely to have COVID-19 who didn’t have access to testing.

So Where Is The Money? A snapshot at the area of Lempira, and of two prisons’ situations

Lempira is an area of grave poverty where many people don’t have access to masks – faced with the difficult decision of buying food/medicine/paying for transport, or buying masks. In Gracias, the capital city of Lempira, authorities had a COVID-19 triage centre set up in the Cultural Housing facing the central park in the busiest area of the city. People in Gracias worried that locating it there would then make the area a hotspot, a place of contagion. The region also has no resources for attending to suspected or confirmed cases, its main hospital having only basic capacities. The Gracias prison began to have COVID-19 breakout in the prison, and in June-July the hospital attended mostly prisoners, using donations and PPE from NGOs like World Vision, not having had state funding for COVID-19. The regime said on 5 August 2020 that the state budget for addressing COVID-19 had gone up to US0 million, to pay health care workers, for humanitarian assistance, PPE, transport of tests, tests, medicines, training, infrastructure improvements, clinics, mobile hospitals and food packages – but all these areas remain highly inadequate in Lempira and most of Honduras. Testing is not free and accessible as it should be. There have been 126 confirmed cases to date in Lempira, with 6 deaths, three of which died the same week in hospital; all were prisoners. It is not known inside the prisons, the real numbers of infected persons, nor the health conditions the prisoners have been in. Rural communities are much poorer than they were before the pandemic, due to the closure of small and micro markets.

A prison in another town, in Valle de Siria, a prisoner’s family spoke of torture there, of prisoners having been denied water for 7 days, and having gone without electricity, masks, and hand sanitiser, on top of which, they are abused by Tigre forces.

And why so many soldiers?

Generally, under the dictatorship’s curfew in the name of curbing pandemic, violence from police and soldiers is rampant and despicable, such as:

Old man tortured and killed by police for ‘breaking curfew’

On 3 August 2020, 74 year old Rufino Portillo was, like many other days, on the footpath by his home in the Entre Cerros community in Santa Barbara – but on this day, just for being there, police proceeded to arrest him for violating the curfew. ‘But he was at his home, on the footpath, he always spent time on the footpath,’ his family protested, thinking he would be back. Rufino did not resist arrest. Rufino was returned quickly enough, but not alive – the family received a phone call from the police, informing them that ‘he had died’ Not only was he killed, the family could see on his returned body, that he had an eye pulled out, his neck was broken, and there was a deep wound under one of his ears. There were bones broken and bruises all over his body and back. There were people just two blocks from the family’s home who witnessed that the police had been bashing him the whole time that he was under custody inside the police patrol vehicle. When the police finally took Rufino to the hospital, he was dead already. The family had no doubt the police killed Rufino. ‘We want justice, what they did to him, they could do to anybody here,’ Rufino’s spouse added, ‘we are sure they killed him, because they took him all good and healthy from the house’. The community is in solidarity with them and horrified by what police did to their elderly neighbour.

A 16 year old disappeared, in the context of military lock-down

Similarly, and also from Santa Barbara, comes the story of a family and parents actively involved in the ‘Where is the money?’ (campaign against state corruption where immense amounts of state and international funds for addressing COVID-19 are laundered and the poor majority have no protection nor healthcare) – the family’s 16 year old son José Miguel Hernández Tejada, was forcefully disappeared on August 12. In El Carreto community, that morning at 7am José walked his mum Lizeth to a point where she got picked up to go to a training session for the National Register of Persons, not knowing she might not see him again after that. José went back home to have breakfast. His grandmother sent a cake with him to take to the home of his uncles and aunties since he was going to the urban centre Las Vegas where the aunts and uncles live. He left on a black and orange yamaha motorcycle that morning, with the cake in his backpack. His mum was worried when at 6.30pm she hadn’t seen or heard from him. She texted him, ‘José Miguel, where are you?’ She could see the Whatsapp message wasn’t transmitted – he mustn’t have been in reception then, so she wrote to her nephew who lives where the cake was to be dropped, and she started to really worry when he said he hadn’t heard from her son at all that day. Lizeth then contacted the son’s girlfriend, who also said she hadn’t heard from him. That night at 11.30pm, Lizeth called Las Vegas police station, asking them if they had arrested a minor on a motorcycle because of the curfew, she really hoped they’d said yes – because that would mean knowing where he was at the least, but they said no. She couldn’t sleep that night. She kept hearing motorcycles that night and hoped each one was her son coming home. She waited for 9am to be able to report her son as disappeared, since the law stipulates that a person needs to have been disappeared for 24 hours first. She went to Las Vegas Police Investigative Department. They made her wait 40 minutes before attending to her, despite her visible desperation. The family and community tirelessly searched for José Miguel for five days, looking at sides of highways, talking with people in Las Vegas. Its through their own search efforts that they know he was last seen by someone who lives in Las Vegas at about 9.30am that morning. Lizeth tried to push the police to investigate properly by going to the Santa Barbara Prosecutor’s office three days into this ordeal – but there, she learnt that the police hadn’t even entered the report of the disappearance into the system. Cofadeh human rights organisation also helped apply pressure by putting in an Habeas Corpus, but authorities acted without urgency, waiting till 7 August to name an executive judge for the case. Cofadeh also notified UN. Nine days past, on 12 August, Lizeth made another formal report, this time to prosecutor Hector Gomez, and was horrified that he wouldn’t receive her report because forced disappearance ‘wasn’t a crime’ – so her next complaint was against him to the CONADEH human rights commissioner, and to ask CONADEH to report on the disappearance.

José Miguel’s parents say he is always helping people, and never stops to think twice before helping someone in need. He was a student. He loves and repairs motorcycles, and dreams of becoming a great motorcycle mechanic.

Weeks ago, young Garífuna leaders were also forcefully disappeared and this continued throughout August. Garífuna organisation Ofraneh emphasised that this was not an isolated case. There are many people disappeared during this time where the military is in control of the streets, and there is systematic violence against Garífuna people in the process of the dispossession of their territories by businesses and industries.

More police abuses

On 6 August 2020, on the streets of Boulevarde Fuerzas Armadas in Tegucigalpa, police confiscated cloth puppets from people who were using them on the streets to ask for money.

On 8 August 2020, there were reports of police intimidation and abuse against Guapinol community villagers who continue to oppose mining alongside compas who have been locked up as political prisoners for a while now.

In Choloma, Cortés, police threw a tear gas bomb at a minibus with passengers inside, without a care for the lives of the passengers.

On 20 August 2020, teachers unions protested outside the congress against the regime’s moves to cancel the school year and not pay teachers’ salaries. In response, Tigre special squad and police cordoned off the congress.

On 24 August 2020, Omar Elvir was riding with a group of cyclists from Sector 8 – it was unclear if the cyclists were in a protest action but Omar sent a public protest message by yelling out ‘get out JOH!’ at a checkpoint at Emisoras Unidades, for which he was arrested and taken to Manchen police station.

On 31 August 2020, in Sonaguera, Colón, police bashed young Garífuna (black) guy, Victor Ordoñez, for being there recording the abuse police were committing against people, leaving his eye swollen and face bruised. Victor is the son of municipal councillor of Libre party, Rosalio Ordoñez.

Health care workers dying and persecuted by police, and bare militarised hospitals

Public hospitals in Honduras are absolutely maxed out in their capacity. Healthcare workers continue to speak out about not being paid and about lack of PPE, of workplace harassment and work overload. At least 31 doctors have died with covid-19 in honduras to date.

Hospitals were becoming militarised. On 2 August 2020, a doctor arrived on his shift, expecting to be given a KN95 mask, a hospital scrub, gloves and surgical boots, as normally happens, but instead, found the military in charge of the hospital and particularly in the equipment. The soldiers checked his name and noted that there were no known COVID-19 patients assigned to his ward areas yet that day and gave him only the mask and not other equipment. Luckily, this doctor carried some back up equipment with him and did not have to work underprotected that day.

On 5 August 2020, of Santa Cruz de Yojoa, a frontline doctor who had since the beginning of the pandemic fought hard to save patients’ lives, Pablo Enrique Ulloa Caceres, died of COVID-19 in the midnight hours. His death left great pain for his parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, children and other relatives.

But are doctors whose lives are so at risk due to high doses of COVID-19 exposure highly regarded by the regime? They should be, but there are so many stories that have reinforced that they are not only not well regarded but are outright persecuted when they speak up about the reality of the health care system.

On 11 August 2020, a frontline doctor for COVID-19, the first doctor to evaluate COVID-19 patients in Honduras, Dr Marco Eliud Giron, was driving and carrying an oxygen tank and was heading somewhere to fill the oxygen tank and then deliver it to a COVID-19 patient who was in a critical state and urgently needed the oxygen tank to literally save this person’s life, when a taxi hit his car with force that almost knocked his car off the highway. Dr Marco Eliud Giron reached for his black mask to talk to the taxi driver and in that moment the passengers in the taxi approached the traffic police nearby and accused the doctor of threatening them with firearms (the mask). The next thing Dr Marco knew, his car, with himself and the mask and oxygen tank inside it, was being towed by a police tow truck, the traffic police having 100% accepted the taxi passengers’ version of events and paid no attention to the context either. Without having talked to him yet or looked inside his car, the Security Department already posted a press release to say ‘a doctor’ had been accused of threatening a couple with a weapon. While being towed, Dr Marco live streamed using his phone to show what situation he was in and also to contact people for help. It was only when the truck stopped inside a locked up parking lot that police approached him and he asked, still videoing, where they were. They were at the Metropolitan Traffic Police Squad and there, the video switched off and Dr Marco was taken into custody, subsequently transferred to a police cell in Core 7 in Tegucigalpa together with other cellmates. They were 22 long hours under custody, people worried for his life, advocates demanded that he received medical evaluation due to having been in a car crash. It was with the pressure of Cofadeh and a private lawyer, and from people protesting outside the court in solidarity from 7am, that he was released the next morning about 9am and transferred to IHSS hospital to check on arterial pressure complications, at the request of COFADEH. Inside the court, he declared, ‘if you are going to arrest me, do it, but stop torturing me.’ At the time of release, prosecutor Lesly López was still analysing the police report and unable to confirm what charges were to be laid. Dr Marco Eliud Girón had spoken up about death threats and political persecution since the 2009 coup, having always been a voice of critique against the dictatorship and its corruption, the newest fact being that when president JOH told the world that he had COVID-19 and was being treated in Hospital Militar (literally a private hospital for his family), he was actually being treated there for an alcoholic disease he has. Dr Marco Eliud Giron was sure that his arrest happened due to an order from JOH.

The next day, on 13 August 2020, another doctor who speaks up criticising how the regime is managing the COVID-19 crisis including the money laundering of COVID-19 funds, Dr Ligia Ramos, a committee director of Medical Association of Honduras CMH, spoke up on Twitter about police harassment and persecution. There was a police patrol vehicle PM-518 sitting in front of her house and the officers inside it came out to take photos of her home. They stood so close that her dog reacted barking at one of them. On Dr Marco Eliud Giron’s arrest, Dr Ligia Ramos said that he was released because there was no evidence to accuse him and she was sure that the whole scene and arrest would have been orchestrated to terrorise doctors who have spoken up about the atrocities of the JOH regime. Last month, she plead for maquila factories to be closed down to slow contagion, these being major clusters in Cortés (maquila workers have their own set of demands related to their health, and their livelihoods and welfare). She belongs to the Platform for (Public) Health and Education in Honduras, and practises as a dermatologist. Back in 2015, she had received death threats from national party activists via facebook.

On 14 August 2020, in Barrio Abajo in Tegucigalpa, Dr Juan Cálix died from COVID19, he was an intern in IHSS hospital, and a teacher at the Luis Bogran Institute public high school

On 16 August 2020, Dr Maria Angelica Milla, together with lawyers Gracia Maria Bertrand and Pablo Gómez, were painting ‘Where is the money?’ on a public surface near the Olimpica stadium in San Pedro Sula (a message that continues to be painted all around Honduras), when the trio was arrested by police. Police claimed that it was not for graffiti, but for breaking the curfew, as it was not her day of circulation, and she only had exemption when travelling for work, but they did not consider her painting those words her healthcare work. Since people immediately activated pressure using social media, all three were released not long after their capture, instead of being held for 24 hours as threatened.

On 27 August 2020, the saga of state laundering of COVID-19 funds continued and with the public budget further ventillators were bought for the military hospital in case JOH’s family got sick, while public hospitals have many dying without access to ventillators.

Journalists under threat

On 1 August 2020, Radio Globo journalist Marvin Neptalí Ortiz was driving by Suyapa Boulevarde in Tegucigalpa towards the radio station when the front left wheel of his car fell off – an incident that could have killed him or others and would have been pre-planned by somebody doing something to his car during the night. This occurred exactly 15 days after Radio Globo director David Romero died after having caught COVID-19 in prison and received delayed hospitalisation. Marvin knew it was an attempt against his life because of his work.

In Villanueva, Cortés, another journalist Rony Pineda in the north of Honduras continued to receive constant death threats. ‘I had to shut up to save my life, I got out. I had to sell my equipment because of fear. I felt that if they saw me with my equipment my life would be at risk.’ The threats started two years ago, with gunshots as he walked on the streets and could sense he was being watched. Rony used to use a camera and a drone to capture aerial videos to put on his facebook page ‘Así es Dos Caminos City’, he had already stopped updating it from June 2019 due to the threats. Rony used to cover protest actions in the region. Another time in 2018, while he was covering a protest, and took a photo where police pointed their weapons at the protest, a police tried to snatch his camera, and did snatch and destroy his mobile phone. He managed to share the photo on social media and it went viral, but that also caught the police’s attention who followed his personal facebook and left him death threats there, including under the name of Armando Chirino, who had a photo of JOH on his profile picture. One of the messages was simply, ‘I am going to kill you’. This month, on 17 August 2020, he received facebook messages that attach pictures of his family and car, saying, ‘I don’t have to push you to give me your address, I already know where you live, where you work, who you get along with,’ and then attached further photos of people he is close to. The persecution always ramped up after he speaks up about things that happen in Dos Caminos. Later during August, Rony was on the road when a big car hit him and threw him onto the road. This was the last straw for him, knowing they really want to hurt him and his family. He silenced his page. His relatives might seek asylum. He needs this reality of his life there to change.

Pushed through logging, COVID-19 times

As in many parts of the world, the regime uses a Shock Doctrine and pushes through extractive projects. The latest case is of Minera Aura Mineral mining company, logging forested land against the Azacualpa community, placing people’s health and housing at grave risk. The community asks for solidarity in raising their voice, ‘today its us, tomorrow it could be your community’.
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