Today is Monday, 30 January 2012, and we’re at our penultimate day of this trip and I’m barely at Honduras in terms of trying to share impressions! And that was last week. One indication of why this writing is taking so long is that when I started this last night, I managed the title before I decided to turn out the light and go to sleep. It was only a few minutes after 8pm. I slept until 5am but I feel like I could crawl right back into bed and fall asleep instantly again.
We got up disgustingly early to catch the plane to Honduras via Guatemala City last Wednesday, 25 January, and at the end of Friday, left for the airport and Guatemala City for the last four days of the trip. We met Rigoberta Menchu Tum in Guatemala City on our way to Honduras and we were to spend the rest of the delegation together. As many know already, almost as soon as we got to our hotel she had to turn around and leave because her beloved sister died. To call it a shock is an understatement.
The rest of us went to join an event at a plaza downtown celebrating Women’s Day in Honduras. Even though the women’s organizations had a permit, when they first arrived in the morning, there were police all around the plaza and they weren’t allowed to enter. Finally at mid-day they were allowed into the plaza. So our very first activity in Honduras had been a scene of harassment and intimidation that very morning as the Honduran government continues its attacks on freedom of expression in various forms in the country.
As in Mexico, we listened to the testimony of women from various parts of the country as they talked about the situation of women here:
“We are trying to defend ourselves and our environment and our cultures against businesses that are affecting indigenous communities. We are struggling against new legislation to favor mining interests, hydroelectric projects and tourism projects. We are threatened by a process of militarization and the arrival of private security firms. The level of impunity is total.”
“Since the military coup, we’ve been attacked in a campaign of defamation. We’ve also been denied the space to operate as a network to defend human rights. Transnational companies arrive and receive support at our cost and we are accused of trying to bad-mouth the companies.”
“I’m a journalist and I am a human rights defender. Eight of our colleagues have been prosecuted for running our radio station. We are struggling against the privatization of the coastline. Sixty-two beaches have been privatized by huge landowners and only three beaches are public. Fourteen of us were captured because of our work, including me. Most of us were finally released, but some are still held prisoner.”
“We continue our struggle against femicide because we’ve not received any response to the problem from the state. There is a lot of domestic violence, sex trafficking, violence against women by gangs and organized crime, as well as political violence against women. This has all increased since the coup. Justice exists only for about ten families in this country where power is concentrated.”
“I’m a student at the university. It offers a Master’s Degree in human rights at the same time the university stopped students from protesting against the coup.”
“Impunity has risen since the coup along with increased violations of human rights. I’ve been beaten and threatened. My son has been detained for two weeks after he was in a car accident. After the accident, nine police cars converged on the scene to take him away. When I asked why, they said, ‘We’ve been ordered to take him.’”
“Many human rights defenders have had to leave their own communities because they’ve received so many threats. Some have even had to leave the country. Every day the hate increases. I finally had to send my son out of the country to protect him because of the work I do.”
“Fundamental is the right to life. We live in a world of death.”
“Violence has increased since the coup and also because of the resistance by civil society. Millions of dollars have been spent on “training sessions” for the police. We need to get rid of the police and create a completely new structure.”
“It’s difficult to imagine reforms here that can change this country.”
“They always talk about ‘bad apples’ that carry out the violence, but the whole system is rotten!”
“The man who raped me was let out of prison ‘early.’ Now he and his friends are threatening me. I worry about my kids. Ten years ago a son of mine was extra-judicially murdered and there has been no resolution of his case.”
“Police are in the streets to threaten us, not protect us.”
“The rich are thieves.”
“Please we don’t need more weapons. Here we are in living hell. Honduras is a failed state.”
The delegation met with the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, and various other officials with her; with the Vice-Minister of Human Rights; with the Minister of Justice and others from his office; with the Minister of Security – and we spent two hours with the President.
In brief, the various ministers talked about what their particular ministry was doing to tackle the problem of violence against women in its various forms. Each blamed the “lack of resources” for why they couldn’t do more. Each, of course, was struggling to tackle, in their own ways within their mandates, issues related to lack of justice and the terrible problem of impunity. Everyone blamed the police. Everyone said the police didn’t know how to properly handle evidence, investigate crimes, etc, which of course made it difficult to prosecute cases. Everyone talked about the need for “better coordination across ministries” to deal with the challenges. It was hard to believe any of them.
The meeting with the president was the most unusual and interesting. He came in his shirtsleeves and sat very comfortably in a chair. It was the first time that any of the Honduran activists who were there had engaged in any way with a government official since the coup. And they made it very clear that they were only there because they were hosting our delegation!!! There was a lot of back and forth between them and the president about that. They challenged him about “progress” and he defended what his administration was doing to change things in Honduras. He challenged them to stop boycotting the government and engage to help change things. They weren’t convinced. The emotion behind those exchanges stayed with me more than the words that were said.
Honduras is called the “murder capital of the world” these days. Nothing that we saw or heard during our time there disabused of us that notion.
Then it was on to Guatemala…