The Hoversten Chapel hosted Minnesota House Representative and minority leader Ilhan Omar and Representative Keith Ellison Thursday as they together sat on a panel discussing their experiences while visiting Honduras with the Witness of Peace organization. They were accompanied by two other local organizers, Hani Ali from Black Visions Collective and Cindy Yang from TakeAction Minnesota.
The situation in Honduras is complicated and tumultuous. Since a 2009 coup, the government has become increasingly corrupt, serving private interests over the well-being of the public. Those who speak out face arrest, torture and even murder at the hands of state security forces.
Each day, more residents and those affiliated with resistance organizations are affected by the violence. Before the panel Elise Roberts with Witness for Peace (WfP) shared an email updating her on the violence in San Juan Pueblo that occurred just this week.
“I want to focus on the threats against one of our partners, the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia, or MADJ,” Roberts read. “Martin Fernandez and his brother Victor, who also serves as a layer for COPINH and the family of Berta Caceres, have been subjected to an ugly defamation campaign, the likes of which often predict violence.”
“On Saturday night, with WfP accompaniment present, a member of the Honduran state security force entered Martin’s home, leveled his machine gun at him, and tear-gassed the house on his way out. It was some combination of luck, extraordinary poise from Martin, and the accompaniment of WfP and others, that probably prevented him from pulling the trigger.”
Hani Ali reported that data on murder and violence in Honduras is often manipulated, so domestic and international audiences receive false reports. Usually, these reports tell readers that the government is decreasing violence rates successfully, when the opposite is true.
When the data manipulation issue was brought to embassy meetings, Ali reported that the embassies had no intention of changing the data; they are funded by private interests, and are not primarily concerned with citizens.
Manipulating data, according to Cindy Yang, lets “exploiters continue to get away with what they’re doing.” “The biggest attack on you is manipulating data to legitimize how power structures work against you,” Yang concluded.
Ellison strongly believes that the United States is culpable for the Honduran government’s negligence of civil liberties. The U.S is funding the Honduran military, not the resistance programs.
Representative Omar stated that “it was disturbing to hear about the culpability of U.S. links to government militarization and the abuse of the people” while she toured feminist organizations throughout the Latin American country. She poignantly recalled that she saw a people ‘crying out for self-determination.’”
To combat the misguided receiving of funds from the U.S., Ellison has written and started fighting for the Berta Caceres Act.
“The [Act] will curtail [U.S.] aid to Honduras until they can prove they aren’t violating human rights laws,” said Ellison, describing the intention of the new legislature.
Due to the political climate in the U.S, Ellison says, “the passage of the bill is not imminent, but we can still raise hell about it.” Yet, Ellison urged that those watching Honduras from afar must also watch closely what happens in the United States.
“Our future could be Honduras,”he said “by [letting power structures] divide and chip away freedoms.” “We must protect our democracy in a way that Honduras could not.”
This article first appeared in the Friday, January 26, 2018, Edition of The Echo.