Honduras: army takes to the streets after massacre

On Sept. 9 military units began carrying out street patrols in Honduran cities, mainly Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the northern industrial center, in what the government said was an effort to help the police fight crime. The authorities didn’t set an end date for the patrols, whose duties include searches of individuals and vehicles for drugs and illegal arms. “The idea is to fight without truce against crime and to bring tranquility to Hondurans,” Minister Oscar Alvarez explained. (EFE, Sept. 10)

The anti-crime push followed the killing of 17 workers at the Christopher Shoe Factory, in San Pedro Sula’s San Francisco neighborhood, on Sept. 7 by four or five armed men; several other workers were wounded. Police officials quickly attributed the killing to rivalry between two criminal gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18. Relatives of the victims denied the police conclusion, noting that investigators had found no arms, drugs or gang insignia in the factory. “This is a lie,” said the factory’s owner, Miguel Alas, whose son was one of the victims. Opposition groups also questioned the government’s speed in blaming gang wars before the investigation was finished, and suggested that the government was taking advantage of the massacre to militarize the country. (Red Morazánica de Información, Sept. 10, via Vos el Soberano, Honduras; Radio Progreso and ERIC-SJ, Honduras, Sept. 10, via Vos el Soberano)

The massacre overshadowed a “civic strike” the three main labor federations and the opposition National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) held the same day to demand an increase in the minimum wage and the return of exiled opponents of the June 2009 military coup against former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009). Thousands of workers, students and teachers marched from the east of Tegucigalpa to the center of the city; the demonstration ended with a vigil at the Chilean embassy in solidarity with indigenous Mapuche political prisoners in Chile. During the march one group of protesters threw rocks at the buildings of two television companies, Channel 10 and Televicentro, and at the office of government human rights commissioner Ramón Custodio. “People are indignant with these media that aren’t impartial and objective,” Rafael Alegría, an FNRP coordinator, explained. “And the commissioner…well, you know,” Alegría added, referring to Custodio’s support for the coup. (AFP, Sept. 7, via Univision; Vos el Soberano, Sept. 9)

In other news, on Sept. 10 a group of men shot and killed campesino Francisco Miranda as he headed towards the La Aurora encampment, where he lived, near the city of Tocoa in the northern department of Colón. Miranda was a leader in the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), which represents thousands of campesinos in a land dispute in the Aguán River Valley. He is reportedly the 12th campesino to be murdered since December 2009. On Aug. 17 campesinos Víctor Manuel Mata Oliva, Sergio Magdiel Amaya and Rodving Omar Villegas, all MUCA members, were murdered as they were going from Tocoa to the community of Panamá. (Red Morazánica de Información, Sept. 10, via Vos el Soberano)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 12.

See our last post on Honduras.