Orchestrated by Washington, it discussed the June 28, 2009 coup, Honduran soldiers arresting President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint, exiling him to Costa Rica, obstructing his return, committing widespread killings and human rights abuses, conducting a sham November 2009 election under martial law, installing Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo Sosa president on January 27, 2010, the Obama administration’s man in Honduras, succeeding interim leader, Roberto Micheletti, using death squad terror to solidify coup d’etat rule, what most Hondurans oppose and want ended.
Founded in 1981, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is “an independent, nonprofit organization… promot(ing) press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.”
On July 27, it published a special report titled, “Journalist murders spotlight Honduran government failures,” saying seven were killed from March-mid-June, six during a seven week period, the “government fostering a climate of lawlessness (letting) criminals… kill journalists with impunity… assassinations carried out by hit men.”
Calling them routine street crimes, Security Minister, Oscar Alvarez, said “there is nothing to indicate that it is because of their journalistic work,” dismissing them out of hand with no investigations or prosecutions, suggesting government forces behind them silencing critics. Post-coup, state terror is official policy, especially against independent journalists, pro-democracy groups, human rights workers, campesinos and others challenging state/oligarch/drug lord power.
For their part, journalists fear the murders were “conducted with the tacit approval, or even outright complicity (on orders) of police, armed forces, or other authorities,” ongoing death squad terror since mid-2009.
“You get the impression that the government wants you in terror so you don’t know what to report. Is this story about drugs too dangerous? What about this one about political corruption? At the end, you don’t report anything that will make powerful people uncomfortable,” Geovany Dominguez explained, Tiempo newspaper’s senior editor in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital.
CPJ found evidence that at least several killings were work-related, most likely all of them, given the politically charged lawless and violent environment. An alarming pattern of impunity also was clear, evidenced by official indifference to investigate and arrest perpetrators, ones they and/or powerful interests likely enlisted. In one case, protection for a threatened journalist was denied, a TV anchor later shot and killed.
Victor Jimenez, Radio Excelsior manager in Juticalpa, expressed alarm saying:
“Narcotics gangs now are stronger than the government. The powerful families that have been running parts of this country for generations, some of the politicians who have personal power, local military leaders — all of them work outside the government’s power. The government is on the margin, it has the least power,” working collaboratively with gangs and oligarchs. That’s why “the police and the courts don’t mean a thing. The people won’t talk to them; the people are afraid of the real power.”
In March 2010, even the US State Department said:
Following the June coup, there were reports that the de facto regime or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings…. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties own most of the country’s news media.
Yet Washington opposed Zelaya, backed his exile, and supported both coup regimes, under Micheletti and Lobo, despite popular opposition by the People’s National Resistance Front, Unified Movement of the Peasants of the Aguan, and other groups, some saying their leaders have been abducted or murdered by death squads or hired killers, the same ones targeting journalists.
An anonymous diplomat said a small elite class benefits from lawlessness, their interests advanced without scrutiny. Yet concern about its international image, not justice, got the government to request FBI help, more symbolic than real, one agent only assigned in June, working on his own with no forensic evidence, lost or never gotten.
Reports of Journalists Killed, Impunity the Common Thread
Nahum Palacios Arteaga, Channel 5, Tocoa
The station’s main anchor, “he was the face of journalism,” the region’s best, and “the voice of his people, the country folk and the destitute.” His father said he was killed for being honest, not corrupt. People loved him, the local boy who made good. According to reporter, Mario Ramirez, he did something about area abuses, more than anyone else. “He saved people’s homes. He got their children cured. He protected whole villages.” He supported campesinos wanting land reform, demanding vast land tracts rightfully theirs.
He opposed the coup openly on-air, got death threats, needed but was denied protection, many supporters blaming authorities for the murder. On March 14, gunmen killed him when he got home. At the time, no autopsy was performed. Months later, authorities said they had no leads, little wonder given its indifference to justice and perhaps involvement in the crime.
David Meza Montesinos, Radio El Patio, Radio America, Channels 7, 36 and 45
For two decades, he was La Ceiba’s most prominent journalist, “the one people felt closest to” for helping those mistreated by government and business. As a result, he was known as “the poor person’s representative.”
La Tribuna correspondent, Julio Cesar Rodriguez, called La Ceiba “a city of abuses. The government abuses the poor. The rich, the businesses, abuse the poor. Even the middle class take what they want from the people at the bottom.” Meza tried to stop them for years.
As a result, on March 11, gunmen murdered him in cold blood. Some suspect Los Grillos, a drug-connected gang. Others say the police because Meza criticized their abuses and corruption on air. Asked about the killing, La Ceiba Police Chief, Jose Ayala, refused comment. According to area journalists, the police and Grillos gang “are very close,” raising suspicions they hired members “to do the job.”
Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, Channel 51
On March 1, days before his planned move to government-run Channel 8, he was shot to death, journalist, Karol Cabrera, with him seriously wounded, later saying she was targeted because of her investigative journalism and on-air government critiques. “It is the truth that makes them angry,” she explained.
She’s been under police protection for months, her pregnant daughter murdered last December, on the same road where she was shot. Yet, “In the operation to kill me, there were two senior police officials on motorcycles directing everything. There are witness statements to prove that, but the police have hidden them.” A police spokesman called the accusation “absurd.”
On June 10, media reports said she and her children moved to Canada for their safety.
Luis Arturo Mondragon, Channel 19 Owner
On June 14, gunmen killed him outside the studio, local reporters attributing it to his criticism of corruption, drug gangs and “the illegal lumbering business that is stripping the forests nearby.” Tiempo correspondent, Osmin Garcia, called them “dangerous topics…. He talked about them on the newscast without giving names, but that wasn’t enough protection.”
Mondragon’s son, Carlos, said his father had been threatened for years, but recently it got serious. “But my father had the attitude that he was going to go ahead anyway. He said he had to continue – that ‘If they are going to kill me they won’t threaten first, they’ll just do it.”
The police refused comment.
Jorge Alberto Orellana, Channel 10
On July 2, Chief Prosecuting Attorney, Rafael Fletes, charged Joseph Cockborn Delgado with the April 20 killing, claiming solid evidence, including witnesses, information he won’t disclose about what he’s sure was a paid assassination.
Orellana was a well-known, respected San Pedro Sula broadcaster, shot in the head and killed after his nightly program, a motive yet to be determined, though likely an assassination because his left leanings put him at odds with authorities and business elites. Yet on air he was moderate and balanced, not strident like others. However, post-coup, “balance has been out of fashion and people see conspiracies at work on the other side of wherever they stand politically.”
Jose Mayardo Mairena and Manuel Juarez, Channel 4, Radio Excelsior, and Radio Patria
A veteran newsman in a remote part of the country, Mairena bought airtime on a local TV and radio station to air his own shows, the way most Honduran broadcasting is done, even newscasts. Juarez was his assistant and on-air “sidekick.”
Although they tried avoiding controversy, “it can’t be discounted that… they slipped up,” angering powerful interests that killed them. At election time, they talked politics, radio station manager, Victor Jimenez, saying “We practice journalism of the stomach, which means journalism that gives us food (from paid advertising). It makes for difficult questions of ethics.”
Yet local journalists didn’t think political advocacy was the motive, believing it’s “more basic than that,” discussing on air “the feud between two powerful large families in Juticalpa, one where perhaps dozens have been killed this year and last…”
The killings have a common thread — impunity, ensuring gunmen feel safe knowing authorities won’t investigate or prosecute.
The Honduran government has failed to exert necessary oversight over the national police, who are responsible for investigating these crimes,” the parliament and executive allocating no resources for it, and “Diplomats and journalists say police have also been infiltrated by criminal gangs.”
As a result, crime elements operate freely in a government-created “climate of lawlessness,” protecting oligarchs, drug lords, and other privileged Hondurans against the people, especially anyone publicly critical.
Post-coup 2009, the Organization of American States (OAS) expelled Honduras. A year later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded re-admittance at its scheduled July 30 meeting, saying last year’s “free and fair elections… should qualify the country.
Institutionalized persecution and violence against human rights workers, campesinos, pro-democracy groups, independent journalists, and other outspoken critics proves otherwise.
A final note. OAS cancelled its meeting because of disagreements between the ousted Zelaya government and coup regime. As a result, support to reinstate Honduras weakened. A two-thirds majority is needed, yet the organization traditionally operates by consensus.
Nonetheless, Honduran media reports claim a ruling, when made, will be by majority. If so, it will violate longstanding policy under Obama administration pressure. However, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza assured Manuel Zelaya representatives that a decision would be by consensus. The situation bears watching.
This article follows an earlier one titled Death Squad Terror in Honduras.