Photo Courtsey of MADJ
On the night of December 22, 2016, the Honduran Military Police for Public Order and the National Directorate for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking raided Cafe Paradiso, a restaurant, bar, bookstore, and performance venue in Tegucigalpa.
Cafe Paradiso is a well-known gathering place for Honduran artists, actors, musicians, organizers, and students. Since the 2014 dissolution of the Ministry of Arts and Culture, it has unofficially taken on the role of preserver of Honduran art, theater, literature, and other cultural output. It was among the organizing spaces used by the resistance movement after the 2009 coup d’etat.
On the night of the 22nd, a youth poetry reading hosted by the cafe was wrapping up when, according to one eyewitness who Witness for Peace declines to identify for security reasons, military police stormed the premises.
“They entered just after the event ended without a judicial warrant,” the eyewitness told us, “all of them with ski masks and well-armed. They separated the men from the women.”
Members of the military police have been accused in recent months of a litany of human rights abuses, including the killings of unarmed civilians and the use of violence in suppressing political opposition. One elite unit of the military police is alleged to have a hitlist which included the name of Berta Cáceres, and a military police instructor is among those who have been arrested in conjunction with her assassination.
The military police’s justification for the raid was a search for narcotics, an increasingly common tactic used by Honduran security forces to discredit their political opponents.
According to our eyewitness, “They recorded us, and alleged that we had drugs but what we had was alcohol. They didn’t find guns, only books.”
No arrests were made, and no contraband was found. Our eyewitness, however, remains wary:
“After some deliberation, they left. But they took photos of some of us, and they stationed themselves afterwards... to see the order in which we left,” the eyewitness told us.
“We have to tread carefully.”
Photo Courtsey of MADJ
The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ, for its initials in Spanish,) a Witness for Peace partner organization, condemned the raid:
“(MADJ) condemns this act of barbarism...by the military bodies who repeatedly show their inability to combat the delinquency and insecurity that increases every day in this country, but who attack art and culture.”
Witness for Peace joins MADJ and others in condemning the use of warrantless searches, as in the raid on Cafe Paradiso. The United States provides millions of dollars in aid every year to Honduran police and security forces. The military police have received funding from the State Department, and training from the FBI, Marines, and US Border Patrol. HR 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which Witness for Peace has supported and hopes will be reintroduced in the next Congress, would cut all military support to the Honduran government pending an improvement in Honduras’s human rights record. Witness for Peace strongly encourages its supporters to ask their members of congress to co-sponsor HR 5474. Incidents like the raid of Cafe Paradiso remind us of the urgency.