MARCH 2023: Rapid Response Network – summary of letters this month
21 MAR 2023
persecution: Lorena Guadalupe Peña Mendoza, an FMLN party leader
The Salvadoran judicial system has become a weapon of persecution against President Bukele’s political opponents. In the latest of a long line of defamatory attacks by the Salvadoran right-wing, feminist activist and politician Lorena Peña is facing unjust criminal charges. Last year, legislators from President Bukele’s New Ideas party subjected her to a “misogynistic, violent and abusive” interrogation over public finances during her previous tenure, which she endured with her characteristic sharp wit and courage. This year, the Supreme Court paved the way for the Attorney General to file a civil lawsuit accusing the opposition political leader of embezzlement of public funds. Lorena Peña has already presented all the required evidence to absolve her of the baseless accusations. She is being threatened with arrest for non-criminal charges of an administrative nature. Furthermore, the government might bring criminal charges against her.
Now that President Bukele has near total control over the judicial system, it is little surprise that he is using the courts to carry out his political crusade against this outspoken woman leader of the opposition.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-03-03-000000 .
22 MAR 2023
assassinated: Benigno Maldonado, environmental defender. ¡presente!
The violent repression against water defenders in Honduras continues. On February 18, Benigno Maldonado, a member of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), became the 8th water defender killed during the first six weeks of this year.
Benigno Maldonado was a known leader in the resistance movement in Pajuiles opposing the construction of the HIDROCEP hydroelectric dam on the Río Mezapa, near Tela municipality in Atlántida Department. Over the last six years, we have observed, with concern, the violent repression against the Pajuiles community by Military Police, special command squads, and the hydroelectric company itself. Dozens of peaceful land and water defenders have been criminalized, and some killed.
Since 2017, IRTF’s Rapid Response Network has been writing to officials in Honduras in support of the Dignified Camp for the Defense of Water and Life, of which Benigno Maldonado was a key organizer. Our condolences go out to his family and community members over this great loss of a local leader and friend to many in Pajuiles.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-03-22-000000 .
23 MAR 2023
attempted kidnapping: Misael Martínez, environmental defender
The environmental defense organization ARCAH (Alternative for Community and Environmental Vindication of Honduras) has helped to shine the international spotlight on abuses occurring with the ZEDEs, or charter cities. In August, ARCAH filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, claiming that the ZEDEs are responsible for threatening the environmental, territorial, and human rights of ancestral peoples in Honduras. ARCAH is a vocal opponent of the ZEDE Próspera, where construction of a luxury hotel is destroying the Bay Islands forest and coral reef. In Tegucigalpa, ARCAH has been fighting against the company El Cortijo because its poultry production is contaminating the Choluteca River.
We wrote to officials in Honduras on March 23 to express our concern for the safety of ARCAH member Misael Martínez, who, since 2020, has been enrolled in the National Protection Mechanism due to previous threats and harassment. Last month he was the victim of an attempted kidnapping. As he was walking through a neighborhood in Tegucigalpa to catch a bus, a man in an unknown car started following him, yelling at him and threatened to use force to make him get into his car. Misael Martínez tried to evade the man by going into several shops and exiting onto different streets, but the stranger was waiting for him and continued yelling angrily at him to get into the car. Fortunately, Misael Martínez was able to escape harm.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-03-23-000000 .
24 MAR 2023
assassinated: Hipólito Rivas, land rights defender, and his teenage son Javier Rivas. ¡presente!
Santos Hipólito Rivas was a founding member of the Gregorio Chávez Peasant Production Association (Movimiento Campesino Fundación Gregorio Chávez, also known as MCRCG, or simply “Gregorio Chávez”) in the rural village of Panamá, outside of the port city of Trujillo, Colón Department. The campesino cooperative was named for Gregorio Chávez, a 69-year-old campesino who was disappeared on July 2, 2012 by security guards of the large landowning family of the late Miguel Facussé and found on July 6, tortured and murdered on Facussé's farm Paso Aguán in Panamá (cf our letter 12 JUL 2012). The families of MCRCG have been victimized with intimation, violence, and forced evictions for the past decade.
Hipólito Rivas’ committed activism made him a focus of attention for those who oppose the struggles of the campesinos, especially for the trained security guards of private landowners and the paramilitary groups that have been operating with impunity in the region for years. Hipólito Rivas denounced on several occasions that he was the victim of threats, persecution and surveillance by these armed groups. Authorities in Honduras knew of an assassination plot naming 25 campesino leaders in the region; that list included the name of Santos Hipólito Rivas.
On February 12, Hipólito Rivas (age 48) and his teenage son Javier Rivas (age 15) were riding on a motorcycle through the rural village of Ilanga, outside of the city of Trujillo. Armed men approached them from another vehicle and riddled them with bullets, leaving them dead on the road.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-03-24-000000
25 MAR 2023
re-criminalization: five water defenders in Guapinol
Water defenders in the community of Guapinol in Tocoa, Colón Department, have been surveilled, harassed, threatened, and criminalized for the past five years. Some have even been killed. Eight were held in pre-trial detention for more than two years until the Supreme Court dismissed the case and ordered their release in February 2022. Two were assassinated in January of this year (cf our letter 24 JAN 2023).
Now the Public Ministry in Tocoa is trying to re-criminalize five of the water defenders. Five members of the Municipal Committee in Defense of the Common and Public Goods of Tocoa (Comité Municipal en Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos, or CMDBCP) are being prosecuted again, even though the criminal proceedings against them were annulled by a court in June 2022. Defenders Juan López, Leonel George, Reynaldo Domínguez, Marco Tulio Ramos, and Adaly Cedillo are once again facing criminal charges.
Leonel George, one of the water defenders, called this criminalization “[evidence that the Tocoa Public Ministry] is protecting itself and that they are doing the job for the interests of the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares/Ecotek.” The government (during the years of the coup dictatorship) carved out a piece of the Carlos Escaleras National Park to allow Los Pinares to construct an iron oxide mine to supply US steelmakers. Contamination from the mine threatens the drinking water, fishing, and agricultural crops of 90,000 residents of the Bajo Aguán Valley.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-03-25-000000 .
26 MAR 2023
attacked: former Nasa Indigenous governor María Raquel Trujillo Mestizo
Valle del Cauca, on the Pacific coast, is a high-conflict zone. Among those most at risk are Indigenous communities, such as the Nasa people who live on reservations around Florida Valle municipality. Communities are subject to repeated attacks, threats, persecution, violation of rights, and the presence of armed actors. All of these circumstances threaten their livelihoods and their very lives.
María Raquel Trujillo Mestizo, the former Nasa Indigenous governor and former sub-secretary for ethnic affairs, was traveling with a protection team of the UNP (National Protection Unit) on March 17, when they were intercepted on the road. A police officer appeared with a group of people who wore camouflage, threatening her team with weapons. The UNP security team surrendered its weapons and exited the UNP vehicle before the aggressors set it on fire. Fortunately, María Raquel Trujillo Mestizo and her team were rescued by the Indigenous guard.
We are urging that authorities in Colombia: (1) conduct an investigation into the attack on María Raquel Trujillo Mestizo, publish the results, and bring those responsible to justice; (2) implement urgent measures within the framework of the Constitution and guarantee human rights; and (3) ensure that the right to social protest, as articulated in Article 37 of the national Constitution, be upheld during any public mobilizations by the Nasa people to protest the ongoing challenges to their community.
You can read the full letter at https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-03-26-000000 .
Rapid Response Network
InterReligious Task Force on Central America & Colombia
3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland OH 44113
(216) 961 0003. www.IRTFcleveland.org