JUNE 2023: Rapid Response Network – summary of letters this month
21 JUN 2023
assassinated: Oquelí Domíguez, environmental defender whose brother was killed five months ago ¡presente!
Another environmental defender was assassinated in the Aguán Valley on June 15. At 10:30am Oquelí Domínguez was shot by two men on a motorcycle at his family’s home in the community of Guapinol (Tocoa municipality, Colón Department, Aguán Valley). His mother, Catalina Ramos, was shot in the leg.
The Municipal Committee in Defense of the Common and Public Goods of Tocoa 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 a concession given to Inversiones Los Pinares to mine iron oxide inside the Carlos Escaleras National Park. Oquelí is the second member of the Domínguez family assassinated in recent months. His brother Aly Domínguez, a co-founder of Guapinol’s grassroots resistance against the mine, was killed along with Jairo Bonilla on January 7 (cf our letter 24 JAN 2023). Both Aly and Oquelí are brothers of internationally recognized environmental defender Reynaldo Domínguez, who has been systematically persecuted by the Honduran State through criminalization and the victim of smear and defamation campaigns for his work defending and protecting the national park and the Guapinol and San Pedro Rivers.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-06-21-000000 .
22 JUN 2023
threatened: Lenca Indigenous Council of Nueva Palestina in La Paz Department
The communal land rights of Afro-descendant and Indigenous peoples are often disputed by private landowners, leading to violent conflicts and illegal evictions. The Lenca Indigenous Council of Nueva Palestina in Marcala, San José municipality, La Paz Department, knows this story all too well. Beginning on June 2, private landowner Juan Gabriel Argueta Montoya and his workers have been coming to the community with insults and threats to harm the families. At particular risk is Benjamín Cruz Bonilla, president of the Indigenous Council.
In 1999 the National Agrarian Institute (INA) gave property title to 229 hectares of ancestral land to the Lenca Council of Nueva Palestina. However, a private landowner, Juan Gabriel Argueta, has an ongoing land dispute with the Lenca campesino cooperative. The community received a favorable ruling on June 8 when the Court of Appeals of Comayagua ruled in favor of several members of the Indigenous Council who had been subjected to an illegal judicial process, accused of aggravated usurpation and alteration of terms or boundaries. Now, both the court and the Public Ministry agree with the Indigenous Council of Nueva Palestina that there is no aggravated usurpation or alteration of terms or boundaries.
We are urging that authorities (1) instruct the private landowner to abide by the June 8 court ruling in favor of the communal land title and (2) clarify any other land titles in dispute.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-06-22-000000-0 .
23 JUN 2023
assassinated: Memoria Viva union member Alexander Garcés Biscunda ¡presente!
Union members are integral to the social movement of Colombia. They have also been important to the peace process. Two notable unions, Memoria Viva (security guards) and SINDHEP (human rights defenders)—both co-founders of SINDEPAZ, Colombia’s Union Network for Peace—are currently under attack.
In a nightclub in Cauca Department on June 6, gunmen shot and killed Memoria Viva union member Alexander Garcés Biscunda and injured his brother Bleider Andrés Garcés Biscunda, also a member of the same union of security guards. This occurred just weeks after another Memoria Viva union member, Diego Mauricio Mejía Rojas, was killed in Putumayo Department, and Memoria Viva union member Jhon Jader Ferreyra was wounded in a separate attack in Tolima Department (cf our letter May 25 2023). These attacks against members of Memoria Viva come at a time when the union is negotiating contracts with government agencies, such as the National Protection Unit (UNP).
SINDHEP union members have long been at odds with their boss, Defensor del Pueblo Carlos Camargo. His office recently expelled SINDHEP (Sindicato de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de la Defensoría del Pueblo) from the negotiation table. This dismissal came just days after SINDHEP publicly denounced Camargo, warning about the risks of corruption, clientelism (patronage), and wiretapping of workers taking place under his administration. In March 2021, SINDHEP accused Carlos Camargo of being complicit in state terrorism during the National Strike, criticizing him for undercounting assaults and killings by Colombian security forces and failing to protect the rights of protesters and social leaders. They called for his resignation.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-06-23-000000 .
24 JUN 2023
killed: two Q’anjob’al Mayan farmers- Carlos Fernando Calderón Herrera and Juan Francisco Artola Chub ¡presente!
A recent shooting that left two Q’anjob’al Mayan farmers dead is only one spike in the ongoing conflict taking place in the community of Kumatz (Barillas municipality, Huehuetenango Department) between land occupiers and the Indigenous families trying to reclaim their ancestral lands. More than 130 of the families who had been displaced to Mexico during the armed conflict returned last year to Barillas to reclaim their ancestral lands. They have since been met with harassment, surveillance, and armed violence by private landowners (occupiers) who now claim the lands as their own. A legal dispute is pending.
In the early morning hours of June 13, while on their way to tend to their crops, several Indigenous campesinos from Kumatz were ambushed by private security forces who arrived in multiple pick-up trucks, armed with various caliber rifles and guns. The attackers fired guns into the community. A farmer managed to disarm one of the attackers but was shot in the back. The shooting lasted for a few hours, killing community members Carlos Fernando Calderón Herrera and Juan Francisco Artola Chub. Others were injured and taken to a hospital in Ixcán, Quiché Department. Hours later the National Civil Police (PNC) mobilized to regain control over the territory, with additional backup from army helicopters.
We are urging that authorities in Guatemala disarm the private security forces who are inflicting harm on the Q’anjob’al Mayan families and that they legally settle the land dispute. We are also calling for justice for the two farmers who were killed in the attack.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-06-24-000000 .
25 JUN 2023
ongoing destruction: Indigenous Maya Chortí community of Azacualpa by Miami-based Aura Minerals gold mine
We have written at least five letters over the past two years in support of the Azacualpa Environmental Committee, which has been organizing to shut down the San Andrés gold mine in La Unión, Copán Department. The Indigenous Maya Chortí residents of the community have suffered many negative effects of the mining operations: destruction of hills and forests, contamination of waterways, exhumation of graves from their ancestral cemetery, destruction of housing and illnesses (skin rashes, hair loss, cancers).
Miami-based Aura Minerals operates the mine through its subsidiary MINOSA. Aura Minerals has routinely mischaracterized its operations in reports to shareholders and other business partners. The company is subject to numerous criminal, civil, and administrative complaints, and adopts business practices that violate human rights standards. It uses coercive tactics (harassment, threats, and criminalization) against community leaders. Even after such flagrant violations of corporate responsibility, Asahi Refining USA (a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Asahi Group Holdings) and Auramet International LLC continue to conduct business with Aura.
We are urging that (1) Asahi and Auramet immediately suspend their ties with Aura Minerals, (2) MINOSA terminate its mining operations at the Azacualpa cemetery, and (3) the government of Honduras conduct a public consultation process with local communities about the future of mining projects in the area.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-06-25-000000 .
26 JUN 2023
assassinated: Tolupán Indigenous defenders Amilcar Vieda and Naún Ismael Chacón ¡presente!
Tolupán Indigenous communities in Yoro Department (whose 26 tribes are organized in the Federation of Xicaques of Yoro Tribes, or FETRIXY) have been defending their ancestral lands from the economic interests of outsiders for decades. In recent months, three tribes elected new boards of directors with clear leadership that seeks the liberation of Tolupán territories, the defense of common goods, and the vindication of their rights. These transitions have angered the logging and mining companies and landowners, accustomed for years to dispossession and imposing their will with impunity. Threats, persecution, and violence have increased.
On May 9 in San Francisco de Locomapa, Indigenous defender Amilcar Vieda was viciously murdered, alongside community member Naún Ismael Chacón; they were shot to death, and then their bodies were burned. In the same Tolupán community, Ramon Santiago Matute the new president of the board of directors, and José María Pineda, coordinator of the Tolupán Tribal Preventive Council of San Francisco de Locomapa (and his daughters) received death threats (cf our letter 26 May 2023). In Las Vegas de Tepemechín, some of the Indigenous leaders have been forced to flee from their homes because of threats, and the previous president of the board of directors, Reynaldo Barahona, suffered several physical attacks. And in Mina Honda a similar situation is playing out involving the newly elected president of the board of directors, Santos Lucas, due to the fact that he opposes the extraction of minerals, felling of trees and contamination of water sources in the area.
We are urging that the government of Honduras: (1) comply with the United Nations recommendation to take necessary measures so that Tolupán leaders and tribal members can carry out their work in defense of their territories and cultural heritage in a propitious and safe environment, and (2) investigate all reports of threats and violence against Toulpán leaders—including the assassinations of Amilcar Vieda and Naún Ismael Chacón—and hold accountable those responsible.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-06-26-000000-1 .
Rapid Response Network
InterReligious Task Force on Central America & Colombia
3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland OH 44113
(216) 961 0003. www.IRTFcleveland.org