Honduras: indigenous, labor leaders under attack

On Sept. 20 a judge in the southwestern Honduran department of Intibucá issued an order for the preventive detention of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on charges of having broken into the property of a company constructing a hydroelectric project. Cáceres, the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was taken to the prison in La Esperanza, Intibucá. The charges stem from her support of indigenous Lenca communities in their protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on and near their territory; the struggle against the project has already cost the life of Tomás GarcĂ­a, an indigenous leader the protesters said was shot dead by soldiers on July 15. 

Cáceres and two other COPINH leaders, Aureliano Molina and Tomás GĂłmez, were charged on Aug. 14 in connection with the protests and were required to report to the judge every 15 days. Molina and GĂłmez remain free, but they must continue to report to the judge and are now forbidden to go near the hydroelectric project. In a Sept. 20 telephone interview from the prison, Cáceres told the Honduran radio station Radio Globo that she was holding her head high and that the business owners had made a mistake in thinking that the Lenca people would let up on their historic struggle (La Prensa, San Pedro Sula, Sept. 20; Vos el Soberano, Honduras, Sept. 20)

Less than a week earlier, in the early morning of Sept. 14, armed men tried to break down the door at the home of union leader VĂ­ctor Crespo in Puerto CortĂ©s, near San Pedro Sula in the northern department of CortĂ©s. They fled after Crespo’s neighbors woke up and became potential witness. Crespo, who is the general secretary of the Dockworkers Labor Union (SGTM), had received a number of anonymous death threats before the incident. He has been leading a struggle to win a collective bargaining agreement with Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), a company which in February won the concession to operate and modernize the Puerto CortĂ©s seaport. OPC is a subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), one of the world’s largest maritime operators; the company says the modernization will be completed by 2020.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global federation of 690 unions, says it has taken steps to ensure Crespo’s safety. The British-based Labour Start website has set up a letter activists can email to Honduran president Profirio Lobo Sosa calling for police protection for Crespo and adequate guarantees for the port workers’ collective bargaining rights; the letter is available at LabourStart Campaigns. (ITF press release, English, Sept. 20; ITF press release, Spanish, Sept. 20 via Rebanadas de RealidadAmĂ©rica EconomĂ­a, Sept. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 22.