Emergency Actions Needed – Honduras

The following emergency alert is a compilation of alerts initiated by the Friendship Office of the Americas and Rights Action.

* Honduras Rigores community threatened with violent eviction
* Calls needed by Spanish speakers
* Emergency funding needed for community whose homes were destroyed
* Watch video of police destroying homes

On July 1, a delegation organized by the Alliance for Global Justice faced down heavily armed police in the community of Rigores, Colon in Honduras. On June 24 police had burned or demolished 114 homes, the school and church of the 12 year old community. They returned on July 1to violently remove the people from the land. In neither case did they have the legal right to evict the community. On July 1 our presence prevented the police from evicting the community.

On August 2, the police returned and fired on community members, gravely wounding one man. Calls to the local police station are urgently needed Wednesday and Thursday to alert them that the eyes of the world are upon them. The community is on high alert under the threat that police will return today or tomorrow to carry out the illegal eviction or commit other acts of violence against the community.

Please call the Tocoa Police Station & Investigative Office & express your concern regarding the police shooting yesterday & the violent eviction on July 24.
Tocoa Police Station: 011 504 2444 3105
Investigation Office: 011 504 2444 2490

[We realize that not many of our Alerts subscribers are able to make calls in Spanish. If you are able to make such calls in the future when grave human rights abuses are immanent and your call might save lives, please send an email to AFGJ@AFGJ.org so we can put you on a special list for only those types of emergencies.]

BACKGROUND
Below is a translation by the Friendship Office of the Americas of an alert sent by the National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP) of the department of Colón:

“The National Front of Popular Resistance of the Department of Colón is denounces that today, August 2nd the campesino movement of Rigores, who is participating in the recuperation of an african palm plantation belonging to the standard fruit company (of United States capital) was the object of criminal acts by members of the national preventative police from the department of Colón. While the campesinos were among the palms along the side of the road, four police patrol vehicles approached them and opened fire on the group, seriously wounding Ariel Lara, 50 years old, who is now fighting for his life in a public hospital in northern Honduras. A bullet entered very close to his heart and also punctured one lung.

“Two hours later, the same four patrol vehicles the Rigores campesino settlement, where they burned the residents’ homes a month ago, killed all their animals and destroyed their crops.
“These types of actions are part of the contracted crimed ordered by landowners to remove the campesino movement that keeps struggling for the right to land, putting their lives at risk.

“From this moment we hold responsible the national preventative police of the department of Colón for what might happen to the wounded campesino y they will have to answer for future armed actions they carry out to evict the campesinos.
Declared in Tocoa, Colón, August 2, 2011
We resist and we will overcome! End the killing of campesinos!
FNRP-COLON”

According to information received this morning by Rights Action’s Honduras staff person Karen Spring, “Rigores participated in negotiations with Caesar Ham [Minister of Land Reform] where they were promised legal title for the 1500 of land (illegitimately claimed by a large land owner & Standard Fruit Company), in question including the parcel where the communities built their houses that were burned on the July 24th eviction. They are awaiting the documentation and have maintained a land occupation protecting their land rights. “

You can view footage of the destruction in a Real News Network report here.

WHAT TO DO
This situation has not been resolved. The family members remain home- and community-less, and have received no compensation for this illegal wholesale destruction of their community.

EMERGENCY RELIEF FUNDS
Rights Action made an initial donation to the Rigores community. To provide further support for the shelter, food and health needs of the 150 families, make your tax-deductible check payable to “Rights Action” and mail to:
UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
CANADA: 552 – 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8
CREDIT-CARD DONATIONS: http://rightsaction.org/contributions.htm
DONATIONS OF STOCK: info@rightsaction.org
Contact US & Canadian government & OAS (Organization of American States) officials

MORE BACKGROUND

“THIS IS HOW THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC ORDER WORKS”
RIGORES COMMUNITY ATTACKED AND BURNED TO THE GROUND, TO MAKE WAY FOR PRODUCTION OF AFRICAN PALM AND SUGAR CANE, FOR DIESEL BIO-FUEL PRODUCTION
By Rights Action, July 1, 2011

On July 1, 2011 a group of 18 US and Canadian citizens visited the community of Rigores, Tocoa, Cortes (as part of a delegation with the Alliance for Global Justice and Rights Action) to learn about the violent and illegal eviction which had occurred there on Sunday, June 26. At approximately 9am (July 1), while the group was hearing testimonies about last weeks’ attack, a group of approximately 50 security forces, principally the police special forces COBRA unit, but also including a military special forces sharp shooter moved into the community from a side street, in the style of a military assault, burning houses.

The police approached the community members gathered with the human rights observation delegation with their guns drawn. This action can only be described as a militarized assault on a civilian community, not an eviction as no notice was given to the community. Local human rights activists and community leaders discussed the legality of the action with the police.

Previous to the July 1 assault, community members reported to the human rights delegation that a truck with private security guards – who were paramilitaries trained in the Rio Claro military base – was parked out of view near the entrance to the community. Local human rights activists believe that the paramilitaries did not participate in the acts of violence because of the presence of the human rights observer mission.

The eviction is illegal not only because of the violence with which it was carried out but also because although judicial orders had been issued, no judge was present, and there had not been any investigation by the Public Ministry into the conditions that gave legitimate land rights to the families which have lived on and farmed the land for 11 years.

Rights Action is extremely concerned that once the human rights observation mission is no longer present further violence will be enacted against the community.

BACKGROUND: RIGORES COMMUITY

The community of Rigores has lived on the farm for 11 years. Previous to this the land was fallow for many years. According to agrarian reform legislation in Honduras, land which has been fallow can be purchased from the title holder for the use of small farmers, so Rigores community members moved onto the land with the verbal consent of the title holder who hoped to be paid for the land by the Agrarian Reform Institute.
After years of petitioning for the agrarian reform program to be applied to this farm, African palm oil production has expanded in this area, making it an attractive investment property for palm oil producers that is then used in the production of diesel bio-fuel.

On Sunday, June 26, police burned two schools, a church and most of the homes of the 150 families who live in the town. Families are essentially homeless, including hundreds of young children, some women have miscarried. They are sleeping in the community meeting house, and had begun repairs on homes when they were again destroyed July 1.

During this visit, the human rights observation delegation heard testimony from residents reporting that the palm oil planters private security forces are being trained as paramilitaries on the 15th Military Battalion in Rio Claro, Tocoa, and have been observed to participate in violent evictions wearing police or military uniforms. It is also reported that what appear to be US army helicopters, Chinooks, pass through the 15th Battalion, and that US Army Rangers have conducted joint operations with the 15th Battalion.

Palm oil company security forces that appear to act as paramilitaries are blamed for dozens of killings in the region over the past two years, eight in Tocoa over the past month. On May 15, Francisco Lopez Pascual, a member of the Rigores community, disappeared. His ten year old son reported witnessing security guards shoot his father. Nearby farmers report that police found shell casings and a trail of blood that led into the neighboring Panama Farm, a palm oil plantation that maintains heavy presence of security guards, but refused to enter the farm. Though a photograph of the Lopez Pascual’s body was reportedly posted on internet, his body has not been located.

Extremely violent evictions are common since the June 28, 2009 military coup, especially in this region. On June 9, 2011, 89 year old Jose Luis Rodriguez was burned alive in the home he shared with his family in the agrarian community 28 de Mayo, a community that borders Tocoa, but is located in in Trujillo, Colon. A group of 40 police attacked the community with tear gas and burned homes. A community member is reported to have warned the security forces not to burn the houses since an elderly man had been unable to leave quickly during the rapid assault. The police responded to his pleas by beating him.

Rights Action holds the US and Canadian governments partially responsible for the on-going systemic repression carried out in Honduras by the military-backed regime that came to power after the June 2009 military coup. Internationally, the US and Canada have been the most vocal supporters of this regime.
We also hold the OAS partially responsible, having recently re-admitted Honduras to the OAS, while doing effectively nothing to curtail the systemic repression in Honduras.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Annie Bird, annie@rightsaction.org
Grahame Russell, info@rightsaction.org
Karen Spring, spring.kj@gmail.com