January 19, 2019
Day #365 – Anniversary of illegal detention of Edwin Espinal, political prisoner, in Honduran military jail
By Grahame Russell, Rights Action, January 19, 2019
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There is no end in sight to Honduran repression, corruption and impunity
enabled by the “international community”.
There is no end in sight to courageous work and struggle for justice, human rights
and the return to democracy in Honduras.
On January 19, 2018, while protesting the fraudulently stolen November 2017 election of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez, and the ensuing government killing of dozens of peaceful protesters, Edwin Espinal – a well-known and respected human rights defender - was illegally detained on January 19, 2018, on trumped up charges and shipped to the “La Tolva” military jail.
One year later, Edwin remains in La Tolva, sick, malnourished and emotionally fraught, “awaiting trial” on the government’s trumped up charges.
It is also day #365 of courageous, dignified and tenacious work and advocacy by Edwin’s partner and wife, Karen Spring, a Canadian human rights expert and activist who has lived and worked in Honduras since the June 27, 2009 military coup that ousted Honduras’ last democratically elected government. It is day #365 of tenacious work and advocacy in Canada led by Karen’s mother Janet, the Spring family, neighbours and friends in the recently founded Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor (based in Karen’s hometown of Elmvale, Ontario), and grassroots organizations in Canada and the U.S., like Rights Action and Karen’s organization, the Honduras Solidarity Network.
Edwin with Karen; with Janet and John Spring
On the flip side, it is also day #365 of the abdication of duties and responsibilities by U.S. and Canadian politicians and government officials (with a number of notable exceptions) that have done nothing to hold the U.S. and Canadian governments accountable for their policies of unwavering economic, military and political support for the corrupt, repressive, un-democratic Honduran regime that systematically violates human rights, such as the illegal jailing of Edwin Espinal.
It is day #365 of the abdication of responsibility of much of the mainstream U.S. and Canadian media that have not investigated and reported on direct and indirect U.S. and Canadian government and private sector abuses of power and authority in Honduras. The mainstream media, almost uniformly, refuses to properly examine how and why the U.S. and Canadian governments (let alone Spain and other E.U. governments, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank and numerous global companies) are legitimizing, empowering and enabling the Honduran regime.
As a result, much of the Canadian and U.S. public are left in the dark as to why there is so much violence, poverty and corruption in far-flung places like Honduras, why so many people really flee Honduras, let alone what our governments and companies have to do with that.
It is depressingly difficult for Karen, her mother and family, their neighbor and friends, and small groups like Rights Action and the HSN to take on the wealth, power, corruption and impunity of the Honduran regime and liberate just one illegally detained political prisoner – who, in this case, is married into a Canadian family. Harder still when that regime is supported and empowered by one’s own governments, companies and investors.
(I say all this without writing, here, about the extraordinary courage and dignity of so many Hondurans who, for so many years, have been lives and liberty, working and struggling to restore their democracy and hold accountable the myriad of human rights abusers – national and international - that are exploiting and harming their country and communities.)
It is depressingly difficult to take on the array of wealth and power, corruption and impunity of the Honduran government and its international government and business partners, in just one single case – that of liberating Edwin Espinal - when this type of repression (and worse) have been going on, unabated, for 9 years, 6 months and 23 days.
Day #3492, since the U.S. and Canadian-backed military coup
On June 27, 2009, the Honduran military and traditional economic and political elites violently ousted President Mel Zelaya and his government from power. Zelaya himself was taken at military gunpoint in his pijamas from the presidential home and flown first to the U.S. “Palmerola” military base, north of Tegucigalpa (Honduran capital city), then to Costa Rica where he was left, in his pijamas.
The coup was denounced immediately by the United Nations, the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) and every country in Latin America - except the United States and Canada.
Within 2 days of the coup, the U.S. and Canada recognized and continued with full political, economic and military relations with the post-coup regime, doing nothing and saying little as the regime used widespread repression – including killings, kidnappings, disappearances, illegal detentions and torture – against millions of Hondurans taking to the streets, week after week, across the country, protesting the ouster of the government of President Zelaya.
In November 2009, the regime held its first set of fraudulent elections. With repression going on throughout the country and no opposition parties, the elections were boycotted by the U.N., O.A.S. and all Latin American countries - except for the U.S. and Canada, that publically recognized the elections as legitimate and democratic.
From 2009-2013, government repression and corruption spiked to their highest levels since the U.S.-backed military regimes of the 1980s. Honduras became known as the murder capital of the world. U.S., Canadian and Spanish companies, along with the E.U., World Bank and IDB expanded investments in the sectors of mining, dams, tourism and garment sweatshop factories, and the production of bananas, pineapples, sugar cane and African palm. Poverty and malnutrition indicators – that had been slowly decreasing under President Zelaya’s government - spiked in the general population. The numbers of Hondurans forced to flee into exile spiked again to numbers similar to the 1980s.
In November 2013, the regime held its second set of fraudulent, repressive elections - recognized again as democratic and legitimate by the U.S. and Canada. Dozens of members of the LIBRE opposition party were killed in the lead-up to election-day. On voting day, the electoral count was manipulated by “computer malfunction” and the elections were stolen from the LIBRE party that had been winning in the polls and in the electoral count, until the “malfunction”.
From 2013-2017, more of the same repression and corruption, murder and violence, poverty and destitution. Tellingly, more information comes to light about the infiltration of organized crime rings, including drug traffickers, into all institutions of the State and government, including police, military, judicial, executive and legislative branches, and the President’s office.
Again, no change whatsoever in the policies and actions of the U.S., Canadian and Spanish governments, the E.U, World Bank and IDB. The numbers of Hondurans forced to flee into exile and try desperately to cross Guatemala and Mexico, into the U.S., increase.
November 2017: The regime held its 3rd set of fraudulent, repressive elections - recognized again as democratic and legitimate by the U.S. and Canada. Then more government killings of protesters. More tear-gas and shootings. More illegal detention of protesters, including dozens of political prisoners, including Edwin Espinal – all on trumped up charges related to their participation in protests against all of the above.
In 2018, the phenomena of “caravans” of forced migrants explodes into the North American media spotlight, as if 10s of 1000s of people had not being fleeing every year since the 2009 military coup. Yet, through 2018 and into 2019, the mainstream U.S. and Canadian media will not investigate and report on how our governments, businesses and investors are, directly and indirectly, empowering and enabling the Honduran government that is causing so much violence, destitution, fear and desperate flight.
Year two of Edwin’s illegal detention
We know Karen will courageously continue to confront and challenge the regime, going endlessly to La Tolva jail, demanding to see visit with her husband, even as the regime regularly denies her even that basic right. Janet will continue to come to Honduras, to be with Karen and take her turn demanding her rights to, at a bare minimum, visit with her illegally jailed, political prisoner son-in-law.
We know that Karen (and the HSN) and Janet (Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor), as well as Rights Action and other grassroots groups, will continue their “engagement” with the U.S. and Canadian governments – particularly the Canadian, as Edwin is married to a Canadian woman – trying to get them to do the right thing and directly pressure the Honduran regime to liberate and drop all trumped up charges against Edwin and all political prisoners.
What we don’t know is whether Karen and Janet will continue to receive countless responses from the Canadian ambassador and embassy officials, from Global Affairs Minister Crystia Freeland and her assistants, explaining -misleadingly- how they are doing everything they can to …, …, when in fact Canada has not changed its policies one bit in Honduras? Canada is maintaining full political, trade and aid relations with the corrupt, repressive government; is continuing to promote and facilitate the expansion of Canadian business and investor interests in Honduras.
What we don’t know is whether most Members of Parliament, Senators and government officials will continue to ignore or deny the harms caused by Canadian public and private sector policies and actions in Honduras, as if these were not as much “Canadian” issues as local, municipal, provincial or federal matters are?
What remains to be seen is whether most mainstream media, reporting from time to time on the ‘plight’ of 1000s of people forced to flee Honduras, will continue to not report on how Canadian government and private sector interests are contributing to the underlying causes of the ongoing violence, destitution and desperation?
Stay tuned. Get involved. Support Karen and Janet in their courageous struggle to free Edwin.
More broadly, support the Honduran people as they risk their lives, year after year, struggling for a return of their democracy, for a just and transparent government, for full respect of their human rights and the right to justice, and for a fair and just economic model that sees to the needs and well-being of the entire Honduran population.
Most importantly, get involved as U.S. or Canadian citizens, in work and struggle to hold our governments, companies and investors to account when their policies and actions contribute to and benefit from human rights violations, government repression and corruption and impunity - all of which are at play in the illegal and harmful jailing of political prisoner Edwin Espinal in the La Tolva military jail.
(Grahame Russell is a non-practicing Canadian lawyer; adjunct professor at University of Northern British Columbia; and, since 1995, director of Rights Action.)
Rights Action raises funds for community / environmental / human rights defense struggles and work in Guatemala and Honduras; and carries out education and activism work in the U.S. and Canada focusing on how our governments and companies often contribute directly to human rights violations (including repression), environmental harms, exploitation, corruption and impunity in these countries. www.rightsaction.org)