This article titled “US silent as Honduras protesters killed in post-election violence” was written by Sarah Kinosian in San Pedro Sula, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd January 2018 12.30 Asia/Kolkata
Tinsel and colored lights still adorn many houses in Choloma, a gritty manufacturing town near the Caribbean coast of Honduras, but at the home of David Ramos there are no signs of the festive season.
“Christmas no longer exists for us: not this year, not any year,” said Ramos as he leafed through freshly printed pictures of his oldest son. José Ramos, 22, was killed by military police officers last month, at a protest over alleged fraud in the country’s presidential election.
The contested results triggered the country’s worst political crisis in a decade and have led to the deaths of at least 30 people, according to the Committee for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (Cofadeh), a human rights group.
Most of the victims were opponents of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who they say rigged the vote to beat the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla.
According to Cofadeh, at least 21 people were killed by the military police, (PMOP), which was originally created to lead the government’s crackdown on violent street gangs.
Relatives of the dead say they fear that there will be no justice over post-election violence: some say they have been threatened by troops; others point out that human rights prosecutions involving security forces are overseen by the same taskforce that helps coordinate PMOP operations.
Across Honduras, protesters took to the streets after the 26 November election, blocking roads and clashing with security forces who used teargas, water cannon, and live ammunition.
The unrest was most deadly in northern Honduras – particularly around the second city of San Pedro Sula, which overwhelmingly supported Nasralla.
Of the 30 deaths documented, 21 were in the north, said Cofadeh. But the total is probably higher.
San Pedro Sula’s morgue confirmed that 13 protesters had been killed in the area, and said it had at least six more bodies that “in all likelihood” were related to the protests.
“[The death toll] is higher – some people haven’t reported the deaths out of fear; other deaths haven’t been investigated,” said a morgue worker who asked not to be named.
Amnesty International has accused the government of deploying “dangerous and illegal tactics to silence any dissenting voices”, while the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have denounced torture of detainees in military installations and said they were “alarmed by the illegal and excessive use of force to disperse protests”.
But the US-backed government has rejected a request by the Organization of American States (OAS) to send a special delegate to investigate abuses.
Honduran officials have downplayed the deaths, claiming gang members are behind protests.
At least four other people were killed in the same incident as José Ramos. The PMOP told local press they had shot at a group of armed men, but a cellphone video sent to the Ramos family by a witness tells a different story.
The scene opens with a small group of young men blocking a road, and hurling rocks at a line of what witnesses and local press say were military police officers.
José appears briefly with the red flag of the opposition Libre party tied around his shoulders.
Then a barrage of gunfire breaks out. The cameraman starts running. José, who had also turned to run, hits the ground.
In the footage, none of the protesters is holding a firearm. José is clearly empty-handed.
The morgue source said of the five young men killed in the incident, “practically all of them were shot somewhere in the back part of their bodies”.
The United States has not responded to the killings, beyond a 22 December statement asking “all Hondurans to refrain from violence” and calling on the military to respect the rights of peaceful protesters.
And the Trump government was quick to congratulate Hernández, who has worked closely with Washington to stem migration and drug trafficking.
Since 2009, the United States has provided at least $114m in security assistance to Honduras, according to Security Assistance Monitor, a Washington DC-based thinktank.
Senior military officials – including the newly appointed head of the military, René Ponce – have received ample military training from the US.
Ponce – who was appointed amid the post-election crisis on 20 December – has strong ties to both the PMOP and Fusina, the military-led interagency structure through which the military police are largely deployed.
Ponce has participated in several US training courses, according to local press reports, including an anti-terrorism course at its Joint Special Operations University at MacDill air force base in Florida.
While the United States does not directly fund the PMOP or Fusina, units assigned to Fusina can receive US funding and operate alongside the PMOP.
“The United States has a strong incentive to pressure Hernández to cut it out,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America. “The optics of the US backing a candidate that goes out and massacres a lot the opposition are not great.”
Military police units operating under Fusina have been linked to grave human rights violations, including in the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres.
However, two days after the election, the State Department certified that Honduras had made progress on improving human rights and fighting corruption, paving the way for millions in security aid to be released.
And Fusina also oversees the lawyers responsible for human rights cases involving soldiers, leading many activists to worry there will be no serious investigation of post-election violence.
Relatives of some of the victims say they fear reprisals if they speak out.
Sandi Mancia’s husband David Quiroz was shot by security forces during a 15 December protest; when she rushed to the hospital to see him, Mancia and her son were threatened by troops.
“At the hospital the military police took videos and photos of me and my family. They stood on each side of David’s bed all day and threatened to kill my son when he took a picture of them.” Two human rights groups and an on-duty doctor confirmed that soldiers had harassed the family. Quiroz later died of his wounds.
Protests have slowed over the holidays, but local activists say they will pick up again in the new year, particularly ahead of Hernández’s 27 January inauguration.
Mariela Hernández, whose brother Cristian was shot and killed by the PMOP on 18 December, says others will continue to fight.
“This whole country is in mourning – there are so many killings and no justice. I can’t get my brother back, but the resistance will go on. Juan Orlando is not my president.”
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