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Afro-Descendant & Indigenous: News & Updates

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Francia Márquez Mina is an environmental grassroots leader and lawyer whose rapid rise is expanding a new political Black feminist perspective in Colombia and Latin America. Come on Colombia! From resistance to power until dignity becomes customary!” were her closing words in her first public speech after hearing the results of the March 13 presidential primary elections. Although she is not the first Black woman to run for the Colombian presidency, that day, Márquez made history. With a campaign executed in record time, she obtained the third highest turnout—783,160 votes—outnumbering former governors, mayors, and senators with longer political trajectories in Colombia. And while there is no guarantee that Márquez will become Colombia’s first Black woman vice president in May, her work so far has already blazed a path for future Black feminist politicians and created new space for people who have been historically excluded from Colombia’s highest political institutions.

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Please see a summary of the letters we sent to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia  and Honduras, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, and (3) bring human rights criminals to justice…..IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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In a historic advance, the Inter-American Development Bank has designed a responsible exit plan to accompany their divestment from two controversial large dams in the Yichk'isis micro-region of Guatemala. The Bank’s decision stems from a complaint affected Mayan communities filed in 2018 before the IDB Group's Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism. In resolving the complaint, the accountability office concluded that IDB Invest failed to comply with the bank’s operational policies and safeguards in the framework of project financing, and opened the possibility of a withdrawal of investment. Affected Mayan communities celebrate the decision, while acknowledging that the Bank has several challenges left to confront.

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Central America’s Forgotten History explores how “struggles over historical memory” “can be very political” in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Chomsky begins with dispelling “the Black Legend” “that serves to cover up some more inconvenient similarities, contrasts, and connections between British and Spanish colonialism.” The author seeks “to find clues as to what some of the invisible, unheard voices hidden within them might have to say.” Central America’s Forgotten History is a thesis on what today’s America forgot or never knew about the history that drives emigration from Central America. As such, Chomsky omits some history in this concise book while more recent relevant events receive more attention.

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Pablo Isabel Hernández and Thalía Rodríguez lived far apart from each other in Honduras, and seemingly with nothing in common, yet one aspect of their lives linked them: both were defending human rights in their community. And both were killed in January of this year, along with Melvin Geovany Mejía, an indigenous rights defender who died on his way to the hospital after being shot. Isabel Albaladejo, representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras, believes that three killings in less than a month shows how it has become an increasingly hostile environment for human rights defenders in the country. Honduras is considered one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders in Latin America. Yet, activists have some hope that the arrival of a new government, led by the first female president Xiomara Castro, may bring much needed change in Honduras.

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The refoundation of Honduras took two more important steps this month. After the successful electoral win of the opposition in November, the initially divided opposition in Congress came together this month and the US officially requested the extradition of JOH for his drug trafficking ties which led to his arrest. Of course, this does not mean that the old power structures are gone, they are still in place, especially in the Judiciary. But change seems possible. This also included the announcement to demilitarize the prisons as well as the state security forces in general. There were other things to celebrate in February, especially the liberation of the Guapinol defenders after over 900 days illegally imprisoned. But the way to a Honduras respecting human rights is still long and steep. Three members of the LGBTQ+ community were murdered in the first week of February; the Minosa mining company seems to be free to ignore court rulings and go on with the exhumation of a Maya Chortí cemetery in Azacualpa; and the indigenous Lenca Tierras del Padre community faced eviction threats. Welcome to another month in Honduras.

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