Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“We do it knowing what can happen”, Interview with Gilda, Honduran Journalist Under Threat

by the Nicaragua International Team

Honduras is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. On March 11th, Honduran Journalist Fausto Evelio Valle was murdered. Evelio Valle was a news anchor for a radio program in the Honduran municipality of Sabá. This is the 24th journalist to be killed in the last 3 years.

In our recent visit to Honduras the Nicaragua International Team spoke to Gilda Silvestrucci, a Honduran independent journalist, about being a journalist in Honduras and the role of United States policy in the current situation there. Gilda and her children have been subject to death threats and intimidation. In January of this year, over 1,000 Witness for Peace members wrote to the U.S. State Department demanding that the U.S. put pressure on the Honduran government to provide protection.

What is the situation like for journalists in Honduras?

It depends on what type of journalist we are talking about. There are two types of journalists: the journalists who work for the large media companies in this country who are obligated to work according to the instructions they are given by the owners of these media. The majority of these owners are business men, the majority of them are politicians, or peers of politicians in this country. For this reason, in these news companies there is a lot of censorship in covering certain issues…

And there is the other sector of journalists who don’t work in these large news firms but rather work in what one could call “alternative media.” I place myself in this camp. …I buy time on a radio station each month to be able to work and I do this, more than anything, to address those issues that are not represented by the interests of the owners of the large media companies. For example, they do not report on the case of the campesinos of the Bajo Aguan and all of their problems. They don’t have it on their agenda in comparison to us, independent media, independent journalists. We do it knowing what can happen to us.

When did you start receiving threats?

… In the month of December the “Journalists for Life” brought forth a demand against President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, president of this country; against the Commander of the Honduran Armed Forces; and the Chief of the Honorary Presidential Guard. We have this denouncement against them for their abuse of authority, for mistreatment, and for negation of the fundamental rights of citizens…

Later that month I was followed after I got in a taxi that came to take me home. After a little while the taxi driver tells me, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but they’re following us.” I forgot about it; I thought that the incident was just a coincidence. Then, on the 20th of January, my mother received a call to the house from a guy who said that he wanted to know where I was to give me some documents and that he wanted to know my schedule, when I arrive, where he could find me throughout the day... Next, the following Monday, I left with my son from his school and that day on my radio program I addressed mining issues, the violations that mining companies are committing and all of the corruption that is linked to the national congress in order to pass the new mining law that favors the mining companies. When we left the program the people I had invited to speak crossed the street from the radio station and there was a police officer taking photos… I stayed inside because I wanted to eat breakfast with my son. I received a call from a guy who told me the ages of my children and that he knew I was with my son and that they were going to send someone to kill me.

They continued to call me through the middle of the night to my cell phone. I didn’t answer, I just reported the numbers to be investigated by the district attorneys of human rights who took protective measures but those measures don’t really do anything. They want the police to go with someone from their house to their work but that doesn’t represent security. Why would someone want to accept police protection when there are signs of corruption and links with so many murders? You can’t. So up until this moment that is where my case is.

Could you tell me more about Journalists for Life and Free Expression?

This is a group of journalists who came together because of the deaths that were happening, the assassination of fellow journalists that increased after the coup d’état in this country. Before the coup d’état they had reported only one murder of a journalist. After the coup d’état we have seen 18 murders of journalists.

We came together to protest, to go to the government and demand that they investigate these cases of assassinations of our colleagues. …They tried to attribute the deaths of these journalists to personal issues, saying that it was for personal reasons that they were victims of hitmen. But really, still today these cases haven’t been investigated, nor is there documented proof from the police that can affirm that these fellow journalists were assassinated for personal circumstances rather than because of their work.... So Journalists for Life protested last year outside of the president’s residence.

…We went to the president’s residence, they didn’t let us pass, they threw teargas at us. Some of us were beaten. The majority of us were women because we were protesting the death of the journalist Luz Marina Paz. We were a group of about 40 women and we went with our voice recorders, cameras, banners and we tried to read a statement outside of the president’s house. The response of the government was repression…

As a journalist what do you think about the aid that the United States gives to the police and military?

I think that historically this is one of the biggest things that supports the violations of human rights in this country. Even though the United States government says that it helps or asks for the respect of human rights on one hand, on the other hand…it promotes training and gives funds to the armed forces.

In our country the military isn’t necessary. Our country needs education. What we need is food, job opportunities, dignified health care centers for our people, dignified hospitals for our people. We don’t need a military, we don’t need warplanes, we don’t need weapons for war, we don’t need tear gas. I think that the United States is one of the accomplices in the violation of human rights in our country.

Gilda Silvesstruchi hosts the radio program “En La Plaza” daily on Radio Globo. She also has worked with Radio Progresso.

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