The following complaint was submitted through the office of Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) by AfGJ National Co-Coordinator Chuck Kaufman after he returned from leading a delegation to Honduras that had a dangerous stand-off with Honduran Police.
July 18, 2011
Dear Rep. Raul Grijalva:
I recently returned to my home in Tucson after leading a delegation to Honduras June 27-July 5, 2011. On the morning of July 1, 2011, 15-members or our delegation of US citizens were in an hours long stand-off with heavily armed Honduran police who were attempting to conduct an eviction of a peasant community without a judge present or any eviction order, as required by Honduran law. During our 3-1/2 hour stand-off, snipers in the tree line had high caliber rifles aimed at us and some of the police we were negotiating with had drawn pistols or were making threatening motions with what we believe were Galil rifles. During the entire time we were trying to call the US embassy in Tegucigalpa. We were unable to get a live human being on any of the emergency or any other phones at the embassy. We were unable even to leave a message as all the voicemail boxes at the numbers we could reach were full.
If one of our Honduran guides had not been able to reach, and be put on, a live national radio interview, our stand-off with the police could have ended in tragedy for us and the Honduran community. I think it is outrageous that US citizens were unable to reach our US embassy at a time when we were in extreme physical danger. I am writing to ask you to follow up on this with the State Department and to demand that whoever should have been in charge of monitoring the embassy’s emergency numbers be disciplined or replaced.
The incident took place in the community of Rigores in the Aguan Valley. The community of peasant farmers has farmed the land there for at least 12 years. On June 24, police, claiming they had an eviction notice, burned or demolished the homes in the community, killed the animals, and damaged their fruit trees and crops. They also burned down the church and school and stole the community’s tractor which it had received when Honduras was part of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA). That was before the military coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. The homes destroyed were not stick and plastic shacks, they were concrete or wood houses each with a cement latrine in back donated by a European NGO. As many as 114 homes were destroyed, although we did not witness that number ourselves. We did witness several burned and bulldozed houses and the remains of the school and church.
We traveled to the community on July 1 on the rumor that the police were to return that day and drive out the remaining people who had sheltered in the Rigores community center after their houses were burned. If they left the land, the farmers’ claim to it under the agrarian reform law would have been weakened. We followed the police progress through the heavy trees by the smoke rising from fires they set to homes that community members had begun to rebuild. Finally 40 heavily armed police left the tree line approximately 200 yards and downslope from where we waited. They stationed snipers behind trees and approached us, some with pistols drawn, and all with military grade rifles at the ready.
We engaged the commander in conversation. He showed us what he claimed was an eviction notice but was actually a hand-written police complaint filed by a local landowner who claimed the land was his and describing the community as violent and heavily armed. Interestingly, the complaint was dated June 6 but claimed to describe an incident that supposedly happened on June 30, an obvious impossibility. The officer could not produce an actual eviction notice and at any rate the police were not accompanied by a judge as would be required for a legal eviction. In addition, it is a violation of international law to which Honduras is a party, for evictions to include the burning or destruction of houses and the killing of animals.
This is the reality of Honduras today. It is a country without the rule of law yet whose political and economic elite is supported by our government and actively defended by the State Department and US embassy despite continued human rights abuses and 100% impunity for elites and security personnel.
US policy toward Honduras is a dark blot on the reputation of the United States. Instead of cutting off police and military aid until there is an end to the killings and they and the intellectual authors of the killings, as well as the perpetrators of the coup, are brought to justice, the US has increased lethal aid and sponsored the coup government’s return to the OAS. The US has also constructed two new military bases in the country and is working on a third. An even more important question than why the embassy did not answer our frantic phone calls is why does the US need four military bases in the small country of Honduras, especially new ones, at a time of severe budget cutting at home?
Thank you for giving this complaint your attention and I look forward to whatever actions and responses you are able to get from the State Department. I can supply some pictures so that you can get a feel for the experience we endured if you would find that useful.
Charles E. Kaufman
[address and phone removed]