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Guapinol defenders deliver 2nd volume of illegalities and environmental damages to Carlos Escaleras National Park

Published from Tegucigalpa on Feb 24 2023 by Marcia Perdomo

Original article in Spanish

On February 23rd, communities defending the Carlos Escalera National Park and the Guapinol River travelled to the capital to turn in their second volume of illegalities and environmental harms caused by the mining megaproject to Honduran government agency SERNA. After SERNA placed the burden of proof on citizens to prove that the mining operations were illegal, community members submitted their first volume of documentation to the agency on February 6th regarding the pelletization plant and other aspects of this megaproject, which is funded by businessman Lenir Perez.

Institutional technical rulings have already proven that the mining mega-project has manipulated legal information to favor investor Lenir Perez and engaged in fraudulent practices. The reports presented by the community highlight some of the technical shortcomings of multiple aspects of the mining mega-project. In addition, the environmental license for the project was renewed until 2025 during the administration of former president Juan Orlando Hernandez, without notifying community members who had filed opposition to the project, breaking the entire administrative procedure. SERNA, under new leadership, was forced to notify community members and ask them to submit evidence.

Communities are asking for the cancelation of the mining project, and have been very brave in putting forth evidence that both contradicts the story told by the corporation and is shameful to government institutions who should have presented this evidence long ago. On January 7th, two environmental defenders named Aly Dominguez and Jairo Bonilla were murdered traveling near Guapinol, and the community has denounced sightings of drones over the homes of other environmental defenders.

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Yesterday we reported on the ongoing gang crackdown under the state of exception in El Salvador, and its popularity. But so far, the Salvadoran prison infrastructure has been lacking capacity to keep pace with the mass arrests carried out in the name of national security. The latest official numbers of the Salvadoran prison population were published in April 2021, almost a year before the implementation of the state of exception. Back then El Salvador had a total prison population of 36,000 in its 29 facilities, an amount 20% over the holding capacity. One can only wonder how crowded the prisons must be after 64,000 additional arrests in the last year. 

With this in mind, President Nayib Bukele ordered the construction of a new, enormous complex with the capacity to hold up to 40,000 individuals, creating the largest prison in all of the Americas. Now, in early February Bukele presented the complete project. Each cell of the so-called "Terrorism Confinement Center" will be able to hold up to 100 inmates. Furthermore, it will have pitch black punishment cells, in which the prisoners are totally isolated and have to sleep on concrete. Besides these inhuman circumstances, the prison lacks any kind of education, traning or rehabilitation programs which could help lead inmates toward a lawful future. The absence of this much needed support structure leaves many no choice but to rejoin the gangs and creates a fertile breeding ground for further gang recruitment. 

Critics of Bukele's approach have stated that this strategy will not be able to hold up long term, as the country can't arrest and jail itself out of the structural social issues it faces. Bukele himself dismissed any critics of his strongman policy as defenders of gangs and praised himself, saying, “El Salvador has managed to go from being the world’s most dangerous country, to the safest country in the Americas. How did we do it? By putting criminals in jail. Is there space? There is now.” It is still unclear when the transition of prisoners to the new facility will start. 

So far the vast majority of the Salvadoran population stands in support of Bukele's crackdown policies. But as critics have pointed out, the imprisonment of tens of thousands of primarily young individuals will not solve the underlying issues of poverty, unemployment, lack of a future perspective, education and social services. And with prisons already being recruitment centers for gangs, it is likely that the approach  in the long term will do more harm than good--pouring oil on the fire that is organized gang criminality.  


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El Salvador has been in a state of exception for almost a year now. Since its implementation in March 2022, the government of President Nayib Bukele has massively cut civil rights. The policy allows security forces to arrest any individual without a warrant. Furthermore, the state of exception provides the government with full access to all private communications and severely weakens the right to legal defense in court. 

So far around 64,000 individuals have been arrested under the state of exception, leading to nearly 2% of the Salvadoran population being behind bars. With that El Salvador is now the country with the highest prison population in relation to national population, even surpassing that of the United States. Asked about the future plans to end the state of exception, the Salvadoran Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro stated that it will stay active until every criminal is captured. He estimated that 10,000 more arrests will have to be made in order to reach that goal. Furthermore, Villatoro declared that the Salvadoran border security forces will cooperate with Mexico, Guatemala and the United States to prevent any potential criminal from leaving the country as well as finding an unspecified number of gang members who already left the country. 

But the strategy seems to be effective. Official government statistics show that the amount of homicides has more than halved since the beginning of the state of exception and the crackdown on gangs. While in the year prior to the state of exception 1,147 killings were recorded, in 2022 the number fell to 495. But it is very unlikely that these numbers accurately reflect the situation in the country, as killings by security forces are excluded from the statistics and many murders are never recorded. Furthermore, extortions, one of core activities of Salvadoran gangs has fallen immensely. 

So far the state of exception seems to have lowered violence in El Salvador, an effect that is reflected by the popularity the strategy has in the population.  Surveys indicate that 92% of Salvadorans support the hard crackdown. Citizens stated that the act has allowed them to let their kids play on the streets, take walks and go shopping without fear. Further support comes from local business owners who were forced to pay "protection money" to gangs for years. And while the crackdown strategy gained popularity within the country, surrounding nations took notice. Honduras implemented a softer version of the crackdown strategy in December, and El Salvador has offered help Haiti in their struggle against organized crime.

But with the authoritarian strongman strategy in the name of national security comes a number of oppressive policies and a strong centralization of power towards President Bukele. During the state of exception, the anti-corruption legal body has been devolved and Bukele has stacked the highest court with loyalists. This strategic move did not only enable Bukele to be reelected but also allowed a law to be passed which prohibits journalists from writing about gangs in general. Besides the legal steps, Bukele has built up a network of paid trolls and loyalist fans to defend and support his policies online, as well as harassing and attacking his opposition and human rights defenders. 

Human Rights Watch and other human rights organization stand in strong opposition to Bukele's state of exception. So far, massive human rights violations have been reported, like violations in criminal processes, mass traias and minors being kept in overcrowded prisons.

The Salvadoran government denies all accusations of rights violations besides those allowed under the state of exception and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro stated, "It doesn't interest us to convict anyone unjustly." 

It is yet to be seen how long the Salvadoran government will hold up the state of exception and how long civilians are willing to give up rights in return for safer streets. Especially Bukele's centralization efforts, matched with the human rights violations, is most concerning, as it could lead to another oppressive, one man dictatorship in Central America. 


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In the months leading up to the Guatemalan presidential election on June 25, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has denied left-wing Indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera the ability to run as a candidate.  As a pretext, the  TSE says that Cabrera's vice-presidential candidate, Jordan Rodas, would not meet all legal requirements. This is most likely based on complaints against him for his prior work as the national Ombudsman for Human Rights (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos).  On February 3, the TSE blocked Cabrera from registering as a candidate.  After Cabrera appealed, judges validated the rejection of her candidacy on February 16. As a last chance to be registered for candidacy in the election, Cabrera now has to apply in front of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court. 

In protest of the court's ruling, farmers blocked twelve national highways and the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP) and supporters took to the streets. Indigenous environmental activist Bernardo Caal Xol stressed that "Preventing the registration of Thelma Cabrera as a presidential candidate is an act of racism." In fact, it is believed that corrupt groups and the far-right have mobilized to prevent Cabrera from running in the elections.

Thelma Cabrera, who already took part in the 2019 presidential elections and won 10% of the votes, has since risen in popularity and is believed to be an actual threat to the right-wing candidates. Thelma Cabrera, the former attorney general, and Jordan Rodas, the former ombudsman for human rights, were fired from their posts by the right-wing administration in Guatemala. Both are now living in exile.  

It is apparent that the Guatemalan ruling body fears a loss of power and an Indigenous, leftist government. The recent protests have shown that especially the Indigenous population is fed up with the rule of a class carrying the legacy of colonialism.        

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Only a few days ago we reported on the release of 222 political prisoners from Nicaraguan prisons. Now less than a week later, new, very concerning news reaches us from the country.

On Wednesday February 15, Nicaraguan Appeals Court Justice member Ernesto Rodríguez Mejía declared that the state will immediately cancel the citizenship of 94 political opponents. Rodríguez Majía stated that the 94 individuals were "traitors" and accused them of "spreading false news" and planning a "conspiracy to undermine national integrity." Next to the repealing of citizenship, Rodríguez Majía said that all their properties will be confiscated. It is still unclear under which law the journalists, activists, politicians and former Sandanista rebels were stripped of their citizenship, but a law which would allow the procedure is currently being debated in the National Assembly. However, so far the law has not been approved and can't be used as a legitimization. Many legal experts and activists call the step a political move and suggest that it violates international law. In 1961 the Nicaraguan government, together with many other nations, signed a UN treaty which states clear rules to prevent statelessness. The treaty includes a prohibition of "deprive[ing] any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic or political grounds." 

Targets of the most recent move are widespread and even include members of the Sandinistas guerillas and Sandinista government, many of whom got disillusioned in the 1990s and distanced themselves from the government leadership. 

Although a large number of the targeted individuals fled into exile after the 2018 crackdown on political opposition and nongovernmental organizations, the consequences for those still in the country are unclear. 

For the 222 released and expelled a similar story unfolded. All were stripped of their nationality and declared enemies of the state. Shortly after the deportation of the individuals, the Spanish state made an offer for an unrestricted citizenship, while the United States is offering two years of temporary protection.     

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Honduras has seen massive oppression towards Indigenous land defenders. In the past two months alone, seven social movement members were assassinated in the northern Honduran Bajo Aguán Valley. All of these murders are traceable to a rising food and African palm industry in the country. The largest for-export player in the Honduran African palm business is the Dinant Corporation, controlled by the most powerful land baron family Facussé. Some members of the infamous Facussé family are already directly implicated as the 'intellectual authors' and financiers of the assassination of prominent land and Indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres in 2016. For years one of the largest investors and profiteers of Dinant's violent operations was the internationally known World Bank. 

The post below provides summaries and links to a collection of articles on topics like the recent assassination of Hipólito Rivas and his 15-year-old son on February 12, the assassinations of Berta Cáceres and Gregorio Chavez in 2016, the history of violence and oppression in the Bajo Aguán area between 2009 and 2014, the US and Canadian backed coup, activism by Rights Action and  the connections between the food and African palm industry, Dinant Corporation and its business partners like the World Bank and violent land barons.

As one article points out, violence against Indigenous communities and land defenders is far from a local Honduran problem. All over the world, corporations work together with oppressive industrial agriculture land owners, paramilitary groups and friendly governments as a means to smash any opposition and generate as much profit as possible.              

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After yet another killing of a Black man by the hands of police officers, the call for police reforms rises once again. On January 7, the 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was stopped in his car two minutes from his home. Shortly after stopping Nichols, the police officers involved started assaulting Nichols, beating him violently. Three days after the attack,  Nichols succumbed to his injuries in a hospital. 

Extreme brutality has been an abscess in United States policing for years. The peak of the violence was reached in 2022, according to the organization Mapping Police Violence. Last year 1,192 individuals were killed in interaction with police forces. The statistics substantiate the fact, that African Americans are by far more likely to be killed by police violence than most other ethnic groups. Even though they only make up 13% of the United States population, 26% of victims killed by police were African American. The racial violence affects others as well. Last year the number of Indigenous Americans who were killed by officers was the highest percentage in relation to their population. But this data does not show the whole spectrum of violent policing. Thousands of injuries are not reported-- a vicious circle that intensifies the chain of state violence.  

The statistics also show that the vast majority of murders occur during non-threatening situations like traffic stops or mental health related incidences, while most of the killings could have been resolved nonviolently. 

As an act of solidarity and  a  means to oppose police violence, the United Church of Christ (UCC) has set up a draft email message to send to congresspeople. The Church also states that the reality of policing does not align with the values of their community.  The UCC urges us to send letters to our congresspersons, calling on Congress to reintroduce the "George Floyd Justice Act," which includes reforms like: 

  • restrictions on no-knock warrants
  • prohibition of choke holds
  • a national police misconduct registry for complaints about mistreatment and violence
  • requiring police officers to complete a training on racial profiling and implicit bias
  • the duty for officers to intervene in case of unjust violence by a colleague

It is apparent that after the devastation that Gorge Floyd's killing has inflicted on the US population, the protests have lost traction and many people have forgotten about police violence.

We have to honor those who were killed by police forces while fighting the system built on violence and xenophobia--and in which officers are allowed to use as much power as they deem "necessary" with out fear of consequences.  

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In 2022 there was a record level of violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community in Honduras, specifically in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. The majority of the murders were of gay men and were committed with firearms, and 80% of these murders have gone unpunished, with only 11% even investigated. These murders come along with a rise in other forms of violence against LGBTQ+ people, including threats, discrimination and physical attacks. The Honduran government, under the leadership of Xiomara Castro, has neither protected nor fulfilled campaign promises to the LGBTQ+ community, including the promise to institute sex education classes that discuss sexual diversity from a non-binary point of view. 

artículo completo en español abajo

News Article

Unexpected news comes from Nicaragua, as the government has released 222 p0litical prisoners, flew them to the United States on February 9.

The 222 individuals include activists, journalists and key members of the political opposition, like former foreign minister Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa and the two 2021 presidential candidates Cristiana Chamorro and Arturo Cruz. The mass imprisonment in Nicaragua began following a 2018 uprising in which hundreds were killed and thousands injured. The crackdown against opposition intensified in the forerun of the 2021 election as a means to obliterate all opposition to the current government led by Daniel Ortega.

Otrega, who came into power 2007, has so far won every following presidential election in the country. National opposition as well as the US president Joe Biden have doubted the legitimacy of the last election and claiming that it was rigged. 

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, called the release “a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses” and added, that the move “opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua.”

The Nicaraguan government has so far not commented on the reason for the release, but state-controlled media have shared a statement by magistrate Octavio Rothschuh Andino that the prisoners were deported in order to protect national security, public order and peace. Octavio stated that "The deportees were declared traitors to the motherland."


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Today the buzz-phrase Fair Trade is omnipresent. With the rise of consumer awareness, our stores are flooded with Fair Trade labeled products. No matter whether it's organic farmer collectives or multi-billion dollar corporations like Nestlé or Unilever, everyone is looking to get a slice of the cake that is the Fair Trad market. But far too often, it might be a scam.

With the establishment of Fair Trade International in 1997, a number of environmental and labor standards were set and had to be fulfilled in order to be Fair Trade certified. The production and trade must be,

  • sustainable
  • free from environmental exploitation  
  • free from exploitive labor
  • free from child labor
  • free from forced labor 

Since the introduction of Fair Trade International, new certification labels have been shooting out of the ground, many with far lower standards than Fair Trade International. This includes, for example, some of the most popular labels like the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life. On many farms certified by these organizations, the working conditions and wages are indistinguishable from those of non-certified farms. Today it seems like none of the original standards are actually a necessity for a certification anymore. In 2022 an especially dramatic case of abuse came to the light 0f day. A Rainforest Alliance certified farm was found to use child labor in the process of harvesting and farming. Adding on to such malpractices is the fact that many workers are not even aware if their farm is "Fair Trade certified." Without the knowledge about the standards that should be upheld by certified farms, farm workers have little to no base on which they can speak out against the widespread exploitation. Exploitive labor, wage theft, child labor and hazardous working conditions are just as common on many farms certified by these and other Fair Trade label providers. 

As the popularity of Fair Trade labeled products increased, international corporations--in the hope of appealing to the more aware consumer base--began developing their on labels. These corprate labels often set the bar even lower than the Rainforest Alliance, etc. This sea of Fair Trade labels makes it increasingly more difficult for companies sticking to the Fair Trade International standards to keep up with the cheaper, mass produced competitive products. Furthermore, they lead to confusion among costumers overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different certifications. 

On top of costumer fishing, Fair Trade labels provide a number of other advantages to corporations. It allows an increase of pricing for newly-certified products, provides an image improvement, and green-washes the companies' labor and environmental exploitation. Over the years, consumers have made clear that they are more driven towards ethical products. This development has led to fair trade being used in public relation campaigns by corporations pretending to produce ethically. 

With this watering down of fair trade standards, more and more experts and activists criticize that:

  • standards among the labels are not equal, leading to the acceptance of child labor on certified farms.
  • the auditing is often sporadic or even non existent. In some industries, the inspections are carried out by the same companies who buy and resell the farmed goods. These companies often tend to certify farms as a means to rise the resale price. 
  • even if auditing takes place, it often fails to find abuses. For farms, it is far too easy to hide wrongdoing like child labor or wage theft. The inspections are especially bad at detecting if workers have paid recruitment fees. This is a common procedure to trap workers in debt and often is evidence of forced labor, as the workers are required to clear their debt before being able to look for a less abusive workplace. 
  • workers and farmers have little to no input on the implementation of fair trade standards. Till today, Fair Trade International is the only label provider that includes workers on their boards. In comparison, Fair Trade USA and the Rainforest Alliance boards are exclusively made up of corporate representatives. 

Overall, it is indisputable that the labeling and auditing industry has grown immensely over the last years and is pulling in massive profits. As long as Fair Trade labeling is not led by the affected work force, the vast majority of fair trade labels will remain as profit-generating tools for greedy corporations.