Thursday, April 14, 2011

Embattled Honduran Radio Station Reaches First Birthday

“The security forces have the power and the weapons. What do we have? Our voices?” Noelia Nuñez, Honduran human rights lawyer

Today marks the one-year anniversary of La Voz de Zacate Grande, a community-run radio station reporting on a violent land dispute in southern Honduras. The communities of the Peninsula of Zacate Grande have been struggling to obtain legal title to their land for eleven years and the small radio station rests on contested territory.

Changes to agrarian land reform in the 1990s paved the way for wealthy landowner Miguel Facussé to obtain a legal title to all the land on the peninsula. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund promoted these reforms.

A decree passed under ousted President Manuel Zelaya intended to resolve the land disputes that arose from laws passed during the 1990s. Zacate Grande’s campesino organization, the Development Association of the Zacate Grande Peninsula, known by its Spanish acronym ADEPZA, would have benefited from the decree but states that “the coup d’état paralyzed the process. Facussé increased security on the land and the presence of security guards, police and military has multiplied.”

The decree was annulled by the Supreme Court this past January, affecting thousands of campesinos, including those of Zacate Grande.

Less than two months after the inauguration of La Voz de Zacate Grande, the community reported that the station was surrounded by hundreds of police and military in an attempt to shut it down. Last month the director of the radio, Franklin Melendez, was shot in the leg. Later the same day another community member involved in the radio was reportedly threatened in front of witnesses. The police did not respond in either instance.

Just last week eight community members involved in the land dispute and active with La Voz de Zacate Grande received capture orders for disobedience against the State. Witness for Peace’s International Team spoke with one of the accused, who stated that they are currently in hiding.
Community members involved with the radio station, including youth, have also received threats over the past year, including death threats. The community leader and one of the station founders said that the government has not taken action to ensure their protection. However, they have received support and accompaniment from national and international NGOs such as COFADEH, the True Commission, the Honduras Accompaniment Project, Witness for Peace and Italian solidarity groups.

The landowner in dispute with the communities of Zacate Grande is also in the midst of a conflict in Bajo Aguan, in northern Honduras, which recently became deadly. This week a German development bank pulled a $20 million loan to Facusse for his African palm oil business due their concerns for human rights. Other international financial institutions, including the World Bank, still have investments in the business.

The situation in Zacate Grande illustrates several issues facing civilians throughout Honduras: increased military and police presence, a lack of trust in security forces, threats to journalists and dissidents and the struggle for basic rights. The United States continues to expand funding to the Honduran security forces and push for legitimization of the Honduran government despite the human rights concerns associated with those bodies.

Witness for Peace Nicaragua brought two delegations to Zacate Grande last August and September, meeting with representatives of the radio station. A full report on the delegation’s findings and the history of the struggle in Zacate Grande is forthcoming.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Photos from the Peace March in Oaxaca, Mexico

On April 6, 2011 protests erupted throughout Mexico, calling for an end to the violence and for the U.S.-backed Mexican military to end its role in anti-drug efforts.

Witness for Peace's Mexico-based International Team documented the march in Oaxaca.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

UN Urges the Mexican Government to Stop Using the Army in Anti-Drug Operations; Mexican Society Marches for an End to the Failed Drug War

By Moravia de la O
International Team - Mexico
Witness for Peace

This evening thousands of demonstrators will take to the streets all over Mexico in an outright rejection of the current drug war strategy that has already claimed the lives of almost 35,000 people.

The protest comes on the heels of a report on enforced or involuntary disappearances in which the United Nations urged President Felipe Calderon to withdraw military troops from anti-drug operations. For three years the United States has financed and trained the Mexican military to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. The report estimates that since 2006 there have been about 3,000 forced disappearances in the country.

Leading the call for a drastic transformation of the current method of fighting drug cartels are those who have been directly affected by the increasing violence. Noted intellectual and poet Javier Sicilia’s 24-year-old son Juan Francisco was murdered last week in Cuernavaca while leaving a restaurant with 5 of his friends. Last Sunday, Javier Sicilia published an open letter to politicians and criminals alike, voicing his frustration with the former for their inability to unify and pass meaningful reform, and with the latter for the senseless and demonic violence they have perpetrated on the population.

Sicilia closed the letter with a call for peaceful protests in Cuernavaca and across the country to show a united front “because we do not want one more child, one more son, assassinated.”

It’s clear that the tide of popular opinion is turning in the war against drugs in Mexico. As more and more communities are torn apart by violence and fear, Mexicans of all walks of life are calling for an end to the militarized approach to combating drug cartels and organized crime. In a February poll conducted by the newspaper El Universal, half of those interviewed felt that there needs to be a change in the drug war strategy.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Mexican and U.S. governments insist that they are winning the drug war. Speaking yesterday at the opening ceremony for the International Conference for Drug Control in Cancun, Michelle Leonhart, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), stated that the increase in violence is a sign that the current strategy is working.

It is time that the U.S. recognize the failure of the war it is funding through the Merida Initiative. And it is time for the U.S. government to pay attention to the Mexican people and change course.