By Dan Beeton. This article was first published on Center for Economic and Policy Research.
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Last week, Colonel German Alfaro, the commander of Operation Xatruch III in Honduras’ Aguan Valley, personally denounced Annie Bird, co-director of the U.S. and Canada-based human rights NGO Rights Action, on TV and radio, alleging among other things that she is engaging in “destabilization work” in the Aguan. The accusations, which were also covered in La Tribuna and Tiempo newspapers, came just after Bird accompanied campesinos in the Aguan to the Attorney General’s office to file human rights complaints, including some against Honduran soldiers. Alfaro also said he was opening an investigation into Bird’s activities.
In response, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement yesterday condemning Alfaro’s accusations. This was followed by a statement today signed by representatives of 33 human rights, labor, faith-based and other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, Sisters of Mercy, and the Washington Office on Latin America calling on the State Department to denounce Alfaro’s comments.
HRW’s Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco also urged the U.S. government to condemn Alfaro’s accusations:
Given its ongoing cooperation with Honduran security forces, the US government should use all the tools at its disposal to call a halt to verbal attacks on activists by senior Honduran military officials[.] Whether directed at human rights defenders or campesino leaders, such accusations only add to a climate of fear and intimidation.
Alfaro’s statements fit into an ongoing pattern of violence, intimidation and threats against human rights defenders in Honduras, both foreign and domestic, that has including the kidnapping by armed men of two European human rights defenders in July; threats and public accusations against American and Canadian human rights defenders and electoral observers ahead of and during the elections; and threats and public denunciations of Honduran human rights defenders like Bertha Oliva and Victor Fernandez.
The accusations against Bird, which as HRW noted “attracted comments from readers that include death threats against Bird,” follow “similar attacks” against campesino leaders and a larger effort to criminalize the activities of campesino groups opposing violence and land take-overs by palm oil magnates such as Miguel Facussé and other large landowners. Unfortunately, as we have previously noted, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske’s recent remarks have fed into this criminalization campaign, rather than expressing concern over the violence and threats.
Alfaro’s statements are also chilling in the context of ongoing violence against journalists, lawyers, LIBRE members, trade unionists and others, just since the elections:
November 30 – LIBRE activist José Antonio Ardon was shot and killed by four unknown gunmen close to his home. Ardon was well-known as a LIBRE supporter, frequently riding with LIBRE’s “Motorizada.”
December 3 – a lawyer, José Armando Martínez Motiño was killed by unknown gunmen, the 17th lawyer murdered in Honduras in 2013 and the 70th in the past three years.
December 6 – COFADEH revealed that following death threats, journalist and congressional candidate Edgardo Castro had fled Honduras.
December 7 – mayoral candidate for the LIBRE party Graciela Lozano was gunned down in the Los Maestros neighborhood of the Caribbean coastal city of La Ceiba by unidentified gunmen.
Also December 7, Radio Globo journalist Juan Carlos Argeñal “a 43-year-old Radio Globo [and TV Globo] correspondent in the eastern city of Danli, was also shot to death by unknown gunmen who forced their way into his home,” the Latin American Herald Tribune reported. According to press reports, Argeñal was a LIBRE member and brother of the coordinator of the National Resistance Front against the Coup (FNRP) in Danli. The murder was denounced by several international human rights and press freedom groups, including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.
December 9 – The Committee for Free Expression (C-LIBRE) issues a statement about a supposed “hit list” of 36 human rights defenders, journalists, LIBRE leaders, trade unionists and activists who may be targeted for murder. The International Human Rights Observatory (FIDH) also expresses concern about the list. Included on the list are Berta Caceres, general coordinator of indigenous rights group COPINH; Bertha Oliva of human rights organization COFADEH; and LIBRE leaders Patricia Rodas (also former foreign minister for the Zelaya government) and Juan Barahona, among many others.
December 12 – Carlos Fernando Posadas Soto, son of trade union president SITRAPANI Dagoberto Posadas was reported as having disappeared after attending a LIBRE rally. He was found alive on December 14, semi-conscious and apparently drugged.