Things That Matter

Protests Are Growing Across Honduras As People Ask For President Juan Orlando Hernandez To Step Down

There is growing violence in Honduras as people have taken to the streets to voice their dismay over President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Public demonstrations started back in April after proposed health and education reforms that doctors and teachers fear would privatize their sectors. The decrees have angered many in the country and have caused other workers from other sectors to joined in on protests. This has all led growing calls for President Hernandez to step down.

What’s really going on in Honduras?

When decrees were issued by President Hernandez in April, the Honduran education and health ministers were given free rein to implement austerity measures. Since then, Honduras has been in turmoil with growing protests putting the president under constant pressure.

Many feel that the current Honduran administration has failed to create opportunities for anyone but the richest in the country. There has also been concerns of corruption and increasingly authoritarian force by the government.

Teachers and medical workers would eventually form the Platform for the Defence of Health and Education in Honduras to demand the government repeal the proposed decrees. But even after the proposals were shut down too late. Since then, massive protests in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, and around the country have formed.

Many feel that there are less job and growth opportunities in Honduras which have led to a surge in people leaving the country.

Hondurans currently represent 30 percent of Central American migrants detained at the U.S. border this year. This up from 13 percent back in 2016, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Advocates say lack of upward mobility nad mass corruption has hurt the economy. This has all been fueled by crime and has prevented the government from creating programs needed to keep people in the country.

“The situation here in Honduras has been bad for years,” Josué, 20, told the BBC back in January. “One tries to make it north, that’s our dream, because here even when you do have work, what you get paid is only just enough to eat.”

Protests have turned dangerous and there have been calls of excessive force by military police.

Images have flooded social media showing protesters in masks calling for the resignation of President Hernandez. Military police were deployed across Honduras last week after protests left three dead, including a 29-year-old man who died from gunshot wounds.

This week, around 40 military police met protesters at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. They fired tear gas on protesters who in return threw rocks at them, injuring at least four people.

Protests are anticipated to continue this week as Honduras marks the 10th anniversary of its 2009 military coup, where left-wing president Manuel Zelaya was ousted just seven months before his term was set to end.

Public demonstrations erupted and lasted for weeks. Elections were held shortly after, which many considered illegitimate. The National Party came to power and has ruled over the government ever since. Hernandez was first elected in 2013.

What’s going to happen moving forward in Honduras?

Credit:@personalescrito/Twitter

It’s hard to see peace being restored anytime soon in Honduras as many are fleeing the country and nearby El Salvador. As the U.S. has backed President Hernandez, there seems to be no sign that his tenure will be coming to an end in the near future.

What most people fear is the continuation of a failing economy and rising prices for health, food and fuel shortages around the country. It seems that only a change in government or a peaceful resolution with leaders will spark new hope in Honduras.

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Colombians Are Starting To Turn On Venezuelan Refugees In Their Country And Here’s Why

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Colombians Are Starting To Turn On Venezuelan Refugees In Their Country And Here’s Why

A Cubillo / Photo Alliance

Colombia and Venezuela have long had a close relationship in terms of culture, financial cooperation and migratory patterns. The recent years of economic struggle in Venezuela, product of the Chavista policies instituted by both the late Hugo Chavez and incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, added to US economic sanctions, have triggered a mass migration towards Colombia and other neighboring countries. Added to escalating prices for even the most basic commodities, shortage in basic services such as water, gas and electricity, and what international bodies have deemed as State repression, Venezuelans, particularly in the capital city of Caracas, have had to survive on criminal activity that does not only target the rich, but also those most vulnerable. 

It is estimated that as many as a million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years. This is a massive number if we consider that the overall population of the country is roughly 31 million. While some of the richest Venezuelans have migrated to cities such as Miami and Tampa in the United States, or countries like Australia and Canada, economic migrants and refugees have looked at the neighboring Colombia as a new home. While most Colombians have been accommodating, understanding that forced exile is born out of need and not wickedness, there is an increasing number who is feeling frustrated with the current situation and are blaming Venezuelan migrants for it. Remember, when things go wrong human beings tend to blame those who are different. 

The protests in Colombia highlighted the social and economic problems being faced by the country.

Credit: Al Jazeera Latin America

The recent wave of protests in Colombia, particularly in the capital city of Bogota, have put the spotlight on the socioeconomic differences that have made society increasingly polarized. The crackdown on unions, students and activists has also brought attention to the increasingly repressive methods of the Ivan Duque presidency.

Added to this, violence against vulnerable groups is increasing, as reported by Al Jazeera: “Tension has been simmering for months amid discontent over inequality, education and Duque’s slow implementation of a 2016 peace deal, which was signed between the previous government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and brought an end to 50 years of fighting. More than 750 indigenous leaders and human rights activists have been killed in Colombia over the past two years, according to local think-tank INDEPAZ.”

The current climate is ripe for a conflict that could last for years if all the involved parties fail to reach even the most basic of agreements. Frustration is running high. And we know that frustration is usually a trigger for discrimination.

So some people are blaming the increased influx of Venezuelan migrants and refugees.

In a recent article published by Reuters, a side effect of the conflicted political climate in Colombia was brought to attention: the growing discrimination against Venezuelan migrants.

In the article, a young Venezuelan called Daniels Herrera told journalist Steven Grattan how he and other migrants have heard people blame Venezuelans for the Colombia’s troubles, claiming that it is Venezuelans who run the country. This has made Herrera and others like him feel unsafe even if coming from Caracas, by all accounts one of the most dangerous cities in the world. They have decided to remain silent, speak as little as possible so their accent won’t give them away.

This basically leads to situations such as the one that African and Middle Eastern refugees are living in Europe, where xenophobia is high and a cruel reminder of the division that led unspeakable atrocities during the Second World War.  

Discrimination is a quick slippery slope.

The Reuters article explains that the looting and vandalism that has been triggered by the protests is now being blamed on Venezuelan migrants, which of course has gotten the most conservative members of Colombian society all riled up. They have been quick to point fingers, as Reuters argues: “Non-governmental organizations and researchers say rumors blaming Venezuelan migrants for isolated looting and vandalism connected to the protests have caused a sharp rise in xenophobia over the last 10 days. Posts on social media and messages forwarded on messaging application WhatsApp – many mentioning Venezuelans – stoked panic among Bogota residents on the night of the curfew, as the city’s emergency line was inundated with calls reporting residential break-ins that police say never happened.”

Discrimination and panic are fires that are hard to put out once they start burning. Now Venezuelans are fearful that they will become the scapegoats for whatever goes wrong in Colombia. Discrimination starts on the street level, as part of everyday talk, but can very rapidly become instituted in policies that result in unfair judicial processes and policing that singles out individuals due to their accent or physical appearance. Does this sound familiar to those Latinos living in the United States, where Brown and Black folk are often targeted by the authorities? 

Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

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Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres Flores / Facebook

Seven men were sentenced to up to 50 years in prison in a Honduras court on Monday for the 2016 murder of the environmental activist Berta Caceres. Four of the men, Elvin Rápalo, Henry Hernández, Edilson Duarte, and Oscar Torres Velásquez, who were identified as the hitmen hired to shoot Caceres dead in her own home, were sentenced to 34 years in prison each.

An additional 16 years and four months were handed down to them for the attempted murder of Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, who was also with Caceres during the shooting. Three more prison terms of 30 years were handed down to other individuals that played a part in the murder including an officer, an ex-soldier, and a manager of the dam project that Caceres opposed. The three men reportedly paid the four gunmen $4,000 to kill Caceres because of her activism work. 

The slaying of Berta Caceres, then-45, brought international outrage and protests as she became a well-known women’s rights defender and indigenous lands rights activist. 

Caceras, a member of the Lenca indigenous community, may not have been a household name but her impact in the world of environmental rights was certainly felt. She was one of the co-founders of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of indigenous people. Caceras gained notoriety by protesting the company Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), which had planned to create the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam across from the Gualcarque River. Various indigenous communities depend on the river staying clean and healthy and free-flowing to sustain their communities.

“The river is like blood running through your veins. It’s unjust. Not only is it unjust, it’s a crime to attack a river that has life, that has spirits,” Caceres told Aljazeera in 2016. 

The building of the dam would have had major impact on water, food and medicine for her Lenca people and even caused flooding. One of her successful protests included placing a roadblock that halted construction workers from reaching the dam building site. After almost 10 years of opposition, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, who was jointly developing the dam project with DESA, pulled out of the project citing community resistance. 

Her activism and work in stopping the building of the dam gave Caceres notoriety and international attention. Caceres was awarded the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 for her role in preventing the building of the dam. The project was suspended shortly following her untimely death.

Authorities have connected her death directly to her activism work against the failed dam project.

The individuals behind the death of Caceres were connected to executives that were connected to DESA and the failed dam project. The reasoning behind the plotted murder was due to multiple delays and financial losses that were linked to protests that Caceres was behind. Back in November 2018, a Honduran court convicted the seven men for the attack. 

“From the outset, the path to justice has been painful, as our rights as victims have not been respected. These sentences are a start in breaking the impunity, but we’re going to make every effort to ensure that all those responsible – the company executives and state officials identified in the trial – are prosecuted,” Bertita Zúñiga, Cáceres’ second-eldest daughter, said after the men were charged on Monday. 

While Caceres’ family is happy to see some justice be delivered, Zúñiga still believes the real culprits behind her the murder still on the loose. She has previously blamed the Atala-Zablah family, a well-known Honduran business group and DESA shareholders, as the ones behind her mother’s murder. 

“This is a day of pain because the intellectual authors of my mother’s murder are still enjoying impunity,” Zuniga said to reporters. “We are not going to believe that there’s true justice until these people are in jail.”

Despite this tragedy, Zuniga is not letting her mother’s legacy go to waste.

The message that Caceres spread of protecting indigenous communities still lives on according to her daughter, who continues to do similar work. She is committed to keeping her mother’s legacy alive and remembers her for the amazing impact she had on marginalized communities around the globe. 

“I remember her as a hardworking person. But I also remember her with a big smile on her face, because I believe that this struggle cannot be just to martyrize ourselves. We fight with joy and hope because if we do not, more than half of the struggle is lost,” Zúñiga told EarthJustice. “We always say that the image of my mother multiplied because we found her present in the struggle of so many women from so many communities who continue to fight very hard.

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