Honduras: pre-election repression continues

Unknown assailants shot Honduras video journalist Manuel Murillo Varela dead on Oct. 23; his body was found the next day in Tegucigalpa’s Colonia Independencia. Murillo Varela had worked as a camera operator for Honduras’ Globo TV and for the state television, Canal 8, and was also the official camera operator for former president JosĂ© Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), who was overthrown in a June 2009 military coup. Murillo Varela had been a victim of violence in the past: he and a colleague were abducted on Feb. 2, 2010, reportedly by police agents, and were tortured for over 24 hours. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), responded to the incident by issuing a protection order for Murillo Varela. Both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Inter American Press Association (SIP) condemned the Oct. 23 murder. More than 30 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2010.

Murillo Varela was active in the center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), which grew out of resistance to the 2009 coup and which is now a leading force in the Nov. 24 presidential, legislative and municipal elections. Other party activists have faced threats and harassment as the voting approaches. On Oct. 23, masked police agents ransacked the residence of a local LIBRE leader, Edwin Robelo Espinal, in the capital’s Flor del Campo neighborhood, breaking down a total of 15 doors in the house, ostensibly to look for “weapons and a rocket-propelled launcher.” The raid on Espinal’s residence was carried out by members of a 5,000-member military police unit announced in August and put in operation in October. Like Murillo Varela, Espinal had an IACHR protection order; his partner, Wendy Avila, was killed in September 2009 during a protest demanding President Zelaya’s return, and Espinal himself was tortured by police agents in June 2010.

On Oct. 30, a week after the attack on Espinal’s home, Beatriz Valle, a LIBRE congressional candidate in the central department of Francisco Morazán and a deputy foreign minister during Zelaya’s administration, announced that she had received death threats. She decided to leave the country.

An Oct. 21 report by the Canadian-based organization Rights Action found that LIBRE political candidates, their families and campaign leaders have suffered more attacks and killings since May 2012 than all other political parties combined.

The harassment hasn’t been confined to LIBRE activists. On Oct. 10 military police raided the home of Marco Antonio Rodriguez, the vice president of the National Child Welfare Worker’s Trade Union (SITRAPANI), and in mid-October the police raided the home of Dassaev Aguilar, a former correspondent for the leftist Venezuelan-based TeleSUR television network. Meanwhile, government prosecutors continue to press their case against Berta Cáceres, general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and two other of the organization’s leaders for their support of resistance to the Agua Zarca dam being constructed in territory claimed by the indigenous Lempa. (Europa Press, Oct. 30; Rights Action, Nov. 4; Minga Informativa ALAI, Nov. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 10.