Rapid Response Network (RRN) letters this month
21 AUG 2023
criminalization: attempt: David Hernández Salazar, Zapotec Indigenous human rights defender in Oaxaca
In Oaxaca, Mexico, Indigenous defenders pay a heavy price for their persistence in protecting their lands, waterways, and cultures against the forces of modern industrialization and global capitalism.
Zapotec Indigenous human rights defender David Hernández Salazar has been charged by the municipal authorities of San Blas Atempa in Oaxaca with the crimes of arson and attacks on roads. These charges are related to his active role in protesting against the installation of the “Polo de Desarrollo para el Bienestar” Industrial Park (PODEBI) in the communal territory of the Zapotec Binnizá Indigenous Community of Puente Madera as part of the Inter-Oceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (CIIT) project. The CIIT, which includes the construction of commercial ports, a network of primary and secondary roads, digital connectivity networks, a gas pipeline and ten industrial parks, poses significant risk to the environment and to the living conditions of the community.
David Hernández Salazar has been subjected to harassment and threats, and so have other inhabitants of Puente Madera and members of APIIDTT )Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory). He received two attacks in July. During the same week, two other members of APIIDTT were hit on the road in what appears to be an intentional “accident,” leaving 31-year-old Juan Cortés Meléndez dead and 17-year-old Kevin Alberto Solorzano Cortés seriously injured.
We are urging officials in Mexico to investigate the attacks and drop all criminal charges against David Hernández Salazar and provide protection mechanisms for members of APIIDTT.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-08-21-000000 .
22 AUG 2023
attacked: unions REDSIPAZ, SINDHEP, Memoria Viva
The government of Colombia needs the full participation of members of REDSIPAZ (Red de Organizaciones Sindicales para la Defensa de lo Público y la Paz, or Trade Union Network for the Defense of Peace) to implement the Total Peace Plan that was announced by President Petro in August 2022. The Total Peace Plan is a multifaceted effort that seeks to minimize violence, protect civilians, and dismantle the many armed groups operating in Colombia. But members of REDSIPAZ have been facing attacks and difficult working conditions that are impeding their work to implement Colombia’s peace process.
One member of RESDIPAZ, the SINDHEP unión (Sindicato de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de la Defensoría del Pueblo) has been excluded from union contract negotiations by Carlos Ernesto Camargo Assis, the Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman for Human Rights).
The Memoria Viva union (Sindicato Nacional Memoria Viva de los Trabajadores de la Seguridad y Protección del Pueblo) has been at odds with its employer, the National Protection Unit (UNP, Unidad Nacional de Protección). Its members have repeatedly reported that many of the vehicles and means to protect them are not adequate, and when they malfunction, they are not replaced, which puts the lives of the protected persons and their escorts at risk.
We are urging that authorities in Colombia:
(1) allow the participation of representatives of the Memoria Viva Union and other unions of REDSIPAZ as part of the teams developing public policies related to Total Peace
(2) ensure that all employees of UNP, including members of the Memoria Viva Union, are given the necessary resources, such as vehicles in good condition, to adequately ensure the safety of those who are in their care
(3) instruct Ombudsman Carlos Camargo Assis to reinstate SINDHEP to the negotiation table
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-08-22-000000
23 AUG 2023
violent eviction: 700 campesino families in Yoro
Land disputes are at the root of much of the state-sponsored violence in Honduras. There are many tracts of land that campesino families were given under previous programs of agrarian reform, but private landholders and companies still challenge the land titles.
In Yoro, 700 campesino families recently experienced firsthand the crushing violence of the state in its support of private companies. Azucarera del Norte SA (Azunosa) filed a civil lawsuit against the peasant organizations in the Guanchías sector, but no legal resolution has been determined. Instead, more than 100 police officers arrived on August 9 with tanks and other armored vehicles to force the campesino families to leave within two hours. They evicted about 3,000 people, united in at least 30 cooperatives. Crops and homes were burned in this egregious act of illegal state violence. Just the day before, the campesino organizations had signed an agreement with the Honduran Institute of Agricultural Marketing (IHMA) to sell their corn. But on August 9, police burned about 865 acres of corn, which would have yielded approximately 626,000 pounds of the essential grain in a nation the United Nations declared has 4.9 million suffering from moderate to mild food insecurity.
Recently, the government of President Xiomara Castro installed the Commission for Agrarian Security and Access to Land (Comisión de Seguridad Agraria y Acceso a la Tierra). Although the Commission has the objective of settling disputes over land titles, violent evictions have increased since its inception.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-08-23-000000-0 .
24 AUG 2023
Violent eviction: Maya Q’anjob’al, Akateko and Chuj families in Huehuetenango
Almost 30 years after the end of the armed conflict, Indigenous families in Guatemala are still feeling the violent effects of displacement and genocide.
This month we wrote to authorities about a violent eviction carried out by the Guatemalan National Police (PNC) on a Maya Indigenous campesino community in Kumatz, Barrillas municipality, Huehuetenango Department.
On July 19, 2023, the governor ordered 2,500 officers of the National Civil Police (PNC), including riot police, to carry out the violent eviction of these Indigenous families from their ancestral lands. Several community members, both men and women, were physically assaulted by police and dragged out by their hair. The following day, the families’ houses, personal belongings, and livestock were burned by the private security forces of private landowners who have been accused by the community of arbitrarily appropriating their land during the internal armed conflict.
Since the families returned to reclaim their ancestral lands after decades of displacement, they have been met with harassment, surveillance, and armed violence by the private finqueros (plantation owners) now occupying their lands, culminating in a shooting in June 2023 that left two Q’anjob’al Mayan farmers dead (cf our letter of 24 JUN 2023).
With the future of the community of Kumatz uncertain, we are urging that authorities legally settle the land dispute, recognizing the ancestral stewardship of this land by the Maya Indigenous peoples and their forced displacement during the internal armed conflict.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-08-24-000000 .
25 AUG 2023
detained: Arnold Alemán, water defender in Guapinol
The continued persecution of environmental and territorial defenders in the Aguán Valley is alarming.
Arnold Alemán was one of the eight defenders from Guapinol who were released from prison in February of 2022 after having spent 29 months incarcerated without just cause. Police illegally detained him on August 15 as he, his spouse, and his daughter were returning from a doctor’s appointment at 9pm. Although he had been acquitted of all criminal charges, the police stated that an arrest warrant was still in force. He was later released.
The Municipal Committee in Defense of the Common and Public Goods of Tocoa (CMDBCPT) has denounced since August 2022 a hate and smear campaign that has escalated to surveillance, harassment, and threats against the lives of community leaders who oppose concessions given to Inversiones Los Pinares to mine iron oxide inside the Carlos Escaleras National Park. CMDBCPT has also warned that agribusiness corporations are surveilling and planning to assassinate campesino leadership because of the campesino cooperatives’ efforts to reclaim stolen lands (land recuperation). Indeed, two Guapinol defenders have been assassinated this year (cf our letters 24 JAN 2023, 21 JUN 2023).
We are urging that the government of Honduras establish protocols to expunge arrest warrants for defenders who have been granted their freedom, and create protocol to share the records across the judiciary, Public Ministry, and police.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-08-25-000000 .
26 AUG 2023
kidnapped: social leaders Alexis Chocho Chamapuro and Geiler Lizalda, from Indigenous Wounaan and Afro-descendent communities in Caquetá Department.
On August 3, the ELN (National Liberation Army) signed a 6-month ceasefire with the government of Colombia. But just one day before, they kidnapped two community leaders in the southwest department of Caquetá.
At 6:30 am on August 2, Alexis Chocho Chamapuro from the Wounaan-Nonán Puerto Pizario reservation was traveling with another 25 passengers in the community boat that provides transportation service to the Port of Colonias in Calima. Six armed men in another motorboat intercepted them between Puerto Pizario and Palestina. The armed men were holding a list and some photographs. They also had with them Geiler Lizalda, member of the Community Council of Palestina, an Afro-descendant community, whom they had forcibly seized from his home. They proceeded on the Río San Juan toward the town of Istmina.
The ELN later admitted to the kidnapping. As of August 25, there has been no word from the ELN whether the two men are still alive.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-08-26-000000