“Every time that I feel my life is at risk, or there’s a threat to my family, the attempt to dissuade me from doing my work motivates me to keep going ahead.”
Sandra Maribel Sánchez is a veteran journalist in Honduras, and was one of the first female reporters to cover Congress. She is known for her rigorous coverage of issues, from access to land use and the environment to women’s and Indigenous rights. In a country of rampant corruption and poverty, where journalists and freedom of expression are permanently under threat, her coverage does not shy away from speaking truth to power. Sánchez was honoured with the Prize for Journalistic Integrity from the Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras in 2007. She currently hosts “Más que dos,” a radio program on Radio Progreso in Honduras.
What kind of approach have you taken to journalism?
I’ve been doing journalism for 33 years and the journalism I’ve always done has been on the side of people who are victims of the system, people who are defenceless or who have difficulties claiming their rights. For me, journalism has been about displacing the traditional protagonist of the news – the senator, the president, the official – to hear from people who don’t officially have power, and to put their questions to the powerful. I think this is a form of activism.
What kind of risks do you run as a journalist in Honduras today?
Everyone is at risk, but of course a journalist’s work is more visible. You leave your house to go to work and you don’t know if you’ll return. A few months ago on my [radio] program, I was discussing with the president of the medical college in Honduras a process that’s underway to privatize all health services. She said some very strong things, and spoke about the interests behind this process. A few moments after we finished the program, I got a call threatening me, asking me if I know what happens to “blabbermouths”.
Two years ago, a group of military officers raided my house. I was alone with my youngest son when I came out of the room, I found five or six police in the living room, pointing a gun at my son. I asked them for the judicial order and when they saw it was me, they said they had made a mistake – that they had been told my house was a brothel for prostitutes.
What kind of impact do incidents like this have on state of press freedom in Honduras?
In this country, there is no liberty of expression. The media in this country are only good only at preserving the status quo. In the years following the coup d’état in 2009, there’s been a whole security apparatus constructed that allows greater control over citizens, especially in communications.
What makes you keep going?
Every time that I feel my life is at risk, or there’s a threat to my family, the attempt to dissuade me from doing my work motivates me to keep going ahead. It makes me feel certain that the path I’ve followed is the correct one. Because if I’ve chosen to question authorities about what they do — or aren’t doing — and the powerful react, I know I’m touching nerves where I should. That’s when I know I’m doing my job.
Through your work, what changes do you see in the level of social consciousness in Honduras?
The coup d’état was like this great wound in our history, but at the same time it was an important wound that obliged us to take action.
Now, there’s a greater consciousness, look at how people are expressing their resistance, especially with this government – there’s great indignation right now with what’s happening with the caravan [of migrants]. The big challenge we have now is for the work of mobilizing to grow and strengthen, so that action is taken beyond denouncing something through the media.
What role have women been taking in evolving social movements?
Women are at the frontline. To put a photograph in your head: there’s a coup d’état, and those who go to lead the protests against those carrying out the coup d’état, every single day – even when there was a curfew imposed and even when the government sent out police with tear gas and clubs to beat us – were women.
What changed after the coup d’état?
The country has not stabilized since the coup d’état, even though there have been elections and other governments. Women are resisting in defence of land and territories, like Bertha Cáceres [Indigenous land and human rights defender who was murdered in 2016 for her work] did. In the interior of the country, concessions are being given out to exploit rivers, mines, or to build tourist megaprojects. Women in the territories are resisting because they hear, from other parts of the country, that when projects like this arrive people get displaced. There’s a lot of persecution of those who are leading that resistance, and the majority of leaders in those communities are women.
You’ve just been covering the Honduran caravan of migrants.
In Honduras, the phenomenon of migration is not new, but what’s been happening over the last few years is that it’s become a mass migration. Every day, particularly in the north of the country, buses with 200, or 300 people leave towards the U.S.
Why are so many people leaving? What’s behind so many people leaving Honduras?
People are forced to leave because there is so much violence. First, there’s internal displacement, and when people move to a new place but find the same things happen to them, then they decide to leave [the country]. Also, there’s no work in the country, and very few opportunities for youth to study. It’s true that they go looking for better conditions, but at the root of it is that they’re fleeing a country that denies them everything.
You told me that after 33 years of working in journalism, you’re now studying law. What made you decide to do that?
It nourishes my journalism work because I have better support for my arguments and theories. But in the future, I also want to be able, as a lawyer, to support human rights defenders who can’t always find lawyers who want to defend them – especially when those cases go up against people who hold a lot of power in the country.
Read Elizabeth McSheffrey’s in depth profile on Sandra and her work.
Read this insightful interview with Sandra about the 2017 elections in Honduras.