Photo essay -- Repression in Honduras: History repeats

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Photos and text by James Rodriguez

(Version en español aquí.)

February 7, 2010 -- Tegucigalpa, Honduras --

“The 1980s were characterised by a wave of violence in several countries in Latin America. Our country, Honduras, was not an exception. Even though the phenomenon of ‘disappearances’ occurred mostly during the military dictatorships, many people also vanished during democratically elected governments.”[1]

“A forced disappearance can be defined as: The illegal detention of a person by a state security agent or a force acquiesced by it, without the appropriate legal procedure, and in which the act is denied without any further information regarding the location or wellbeing of the detainee.”[2]

Image removed.“An important characteristic of forced disappearances is that ultimately the victim is executed and the body hidden for good, hence disappeared. In all cases, the main objective is to avoid that the remains be found. Or, if the body is found, to make sure the victim cannot be identified due to grave disfigurement. This important aspect differentiates forced disappearances from another tragic human rights violation: the extrajudicial execution.”[3]

Image removed.“The victims are not only those disappeared, but also the parents, spouses, offspring, or any other close friend or relative. These secondary victims are placed in a situation of uncertainty and anguish that can last for many years. Due to these reasons, forced disappearances tear open deep wounds within the social fabric of a nation-wide community which ultimately affect political, social and professional circles, and thus weaken the fundamental institutions of a country.”[4]

Image removed.“By 1982, sixty-nine families were victims of forced disappearances. On November 30 of that same year, twelve families came together to form the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The organisation’s primary objective was to recover alive, if possible, their family members disappeared by state forces. As sometimes the victims were held in clandestine jails for weeks or months before being irreversibly disappeared, COFADEH’s main objective was accomplished in a few cases. But most of the victims’ remains were never recovered. Between 1980 and 1989, 184 people were disappeared by the State of Honduras without any due course of legal action followed by the authorities against those responsible.”[5]

Image removed."Halfway through the 1990s, COFADEH proceeded with attempts to exhume bodies found in clandestine cemeteries, where some of the disappeared were brutally dumped… Beginning in 1998, a new series of objectives were included in the organisation’s formal mission: To defend collective rights, the right to a healthy environment and liberty of expression. In addition, COFADEH has sought to demilitarise Honduras, build democratic processes and act as a human rights watchdog over state security forces.

Image removed.The importance and quantity of COFADEH’s work increased dramatically after the military coup d'état removed Honduras' democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 2, 2009. During the following seven months of de facto governance by Roberto Micheletti, COFADEH’s offices served as a central headquarters for documentation and analysis of the human rights situation. Human rights violations carried out by the illegal regime continue to be compiled and recorded here on a daily basis, and numerous foreign delegations and alternative media head here first for last-minute information. Just between June 28 and October 10, 2009, COFADEH documented 4234 human rights violations.[7]

(For more information on the coup d'état carried out in June 2009, please view previous photo essays:
Mel, our friend, the people are with you! and Tragedy at Toncontin: army shoots and kills protesters.)

Image removed.Shortly before Micheletti’s de facto regime carried out a dubious national election in November 2009, Bertha Oliva de Nativí (above), director of COFADEH, declared: “I believe we are experiencing a dictatorship without precedent, even worse than in the 1980s. Back then, while we lived under the military boot, paramilitary groups and death squads would assassinate and disappear people in a clandestine manner, so that it was difficult to point them out as the criminals. Today, they do it in broad daylight, openly challenging all national and international structures of human rights and governance.”[8]

Tomás Nativí, founder of the People’s Revolutionary Union (URP), was abducted from his home, in Tegucigalpa, before dawn on June 11, 1981. His wife, Bertha Oliva, three months' pregnant at the time, witnessed the illegal abduction and recognised one of the assailants as Alexander Hernández, leader of Intelligence Battalion 3-16. Nativí was forcibly detained-disappeared by state forces and 30 years later, his corpse has still not been found.[9]

Image removed.During the 1980s, General Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez was primarily responsible for the organisation of the death squads in Honduras. First as chief of the public security forces (FUSEP) and eventually as chief commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, Álvarez Martínez established “an elite counterinsurgency force [in Battalion 3-16] that became the spearhead of the dirty war in Honduras”. The whole set-up emulated the Argentinean counterinsurgency structure and was assessed by military personnel from Argentina, the US and former Nicaraguan Elite Guard members (pro-Somoza dictatorship).[10]

“The information acquired from witnesses, surviving victims, family and the press regarding the forced disappearances clearly indicates that special units such as the National Direction of Investigation (DNI) and Intelligence Battalion 3-16 were [directly] responsible for the atrocities… This latter unit specialised in vigilance and the production of intelligence regarding specific Honduran citizens who were suspected of subversive acts by the Armed Forces.“[11]

Image removed.s in other countries, powerful elites in collaboration with the armed forces nurtured the dirty war in Honduras economically and ideologically. These national elites — who have historically controlled the government in order to protect its economic interests — literally felt threatened by the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista revolution in neighbouring Nicaragua. This powerful oligarchy, allied with foreign corporate and political interest groups, helped finance the dirty war through an entity named the Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH).

Image removed.“The APROH was the sole creation of two men: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez and [US ambassador to Honduras] John Dimitri Negroponte [in 1982]. Its origins go back to secret meetings held by Álvarez with elite businessmen, bankers, industrialists, commerce moguls, public administrators and [right-wing] intellectuals.”[12] APROH gained legal status through a presidential resolution issued by then-president Roberto Suazo Córdoba and its board members were: “President: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez; Vice-president: Miguel Facussé; Secretary: Oswaldo Ramos Soto; Treasurer: Bernand Casanova; Finances and Membership: Rafael Ferrari… [in addition to] Paul Vinelli, Leonardo Callejas Romero, Osmond Maduro, Benjamín Villanueva, Abraham Bennaton, Edgardo Sevilla and Emín Barjún.”[13]

Image removed.Leticia Salomón, researcher from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, states: “The coup [against Mel Zelaya on June 2009] was planned by a loose association of businessmen lead by Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé, former President of Honduras (1988-2002). Flores Facussé’s La Tribuna newspaper, in cahoots with two other major newspapers, La Prensa and El Heraldo, and TV channels 2, 3, 5 and 9, were the main pillar behind the coup… This group of businessmen, who control 90% of the country’s wealth, also includes Jaime Rosenthal and Gilberto Goldstein (directors of the Continental Group, a conglomerate that monopolises the Honduran banking system, agroindustry and owns mass media outlets like El Tiempo and channel 11), José Rafael Ferrari, Juan Canahuati, financier Camilo Atala, lumber mogul José Lamas, energy industrialist Fredy Násser, Jacobo Kattán, sugar baron Guillermo Lippman, construction tycoon Rafael Flores and real estate and African palm magnate Miguel Facussé”.[14]

Image removed.The similarities between APROH from the early 1980s and the elite business association identified by Leticia Salomón are remarkable. Aside from the fact that some men are found on both lists (Ferrari, Facussé), the two groups represent and defend the same economic interests. And, just as in the 1980s, these economic elites are once again fueling repression via death squads run by the criminals of yesteryear. During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, ousted president Zelaya confirmed that Billy Joya Améndola, a former member of Battalion 3-16 who has been accused of numerous human rights violations during the 1980s, served as advisor for Micheletti and has led terror and torture campaigns for the de facto regime.

Image removed.Recently inaugurated president Pepe Lobo has wasted no time in revealing his firm associations with the coup plotters. “His first presidential act consisted of ratifying a political amnesty law proposed by the National Congress, intended to clear all crimes related to the political crisis stemming from Zelaya’s forceful removal from power.”[16] Such bold action awards full impunity to the hundreds of criminals who committed thousands of human rights violations against members of the civic resistance movement.”[16]

In addition, Lobo immediately set forth his strategy of containment against the ever-growing popular resistance catalysed by last June’s events, naming Oscar Álvarez as his minister of security. Having already served in this post during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), Álvarez has been highly criticised for his evasion of legal procedures, disregard for human rights and hard-line approach, all reminiscent of his uncle, the aforementioned Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez. “Less than 24 hours after having been sworn in, Minister Álvarez carried out one of his infamous madrugones, or pre-dawn raids. These illegal forced-entry procedures, which often violate national laws, were rather common during his stint under Maduro. On this occasion, he sent a clear message to the Popular Resistance Movement.”[17]

Image removed.Researcher Robinson Salazar Pérez analyses: “The coup d'état in Honduras on June 28, 2009, clearly marks a turning point in the future path of Latin American politics. Three issues in particular have been clearly signaled and appear to be the target of right-wing hardliners: Avoid any economic alternative [i.e. ALBA] that may block the markets of multinational corporations, detain the progressive advance of the nationalist governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and sow the seeds of fear among Latin American leaders, by reminding them that extra-national interests are well above legitimate internal governance, even if this latter one is backed up by votes.”[18]

Image removed.The powerful Hall of Living Memories (above), inside COFADEH’s headquarters, reminds us that certain chapters in history must not repeat themselves. Nevertheless, in Honduras, the oppressors of the past, using proven methods, once again apply their tyrannical despotism in 2010. A concerned Bertha Oliva concludes: “I am convinced that this is a project they want to emulate throughout Latin America. If they succeed in Honduras, they will also try to do so in other countries that have already been identified.”[19]


[1] Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Los hechos hablan por sí mismos: Informe preliminar sobre los desaparecidos en Honduras 1980-1993. 2a. Edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Editorial Guaymuras, 2002. p. 19.

[2] Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. p. 20.

[3] Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. p. 21.

[4] Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. p. 19.


[6] Ibid.

[7] Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Violaciones a Derechos Humanos en el marco del Golpe de Estado en Honduras: Cifras y Rostros de la Represión. Segundo Informe. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 22 de octubre de 2009. Full report can be downloaded here (in Spanish only):

[8] Trucchi, Giorgio. “Esta dictadura es peor que la de los 80”. Rel-UITA, 29 de Noviembre, 2009.

[9] Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. pp. 267-8.

[10] Becerra, Longino. Cuando las tarántulas atacan. 11a edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 2008. pp. 390-1.

[11] Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. p. 258.

[12] Op. Cit. Becerra. p. 404.

[13] Ibid. p. 285.




[17] “Oscar Alvarez inicia gestión con prepotencia y soberbia amenazando a la Resistencia”. El Libertador. 28 de enero, 2010.

[18] Salazar Pérez, Robinson. “Honduras factor estratégico que cambió el rumbo de América Latina”. America Latina en Movimiento. Golpe de Estado en Honduras: ¿Laboratorio de dictaduras siglo XXI?. Publicada por la Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI). Agosto 2009. p. 9. (

[19] Op. Cit. Trucchi.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/28/2010 - 08:26


Quixote Center Announcement

Dear Friends,

Yesterday (February 27), Hondurans marched in the streets of Tegucigalpa to demand that the recently installed government of Porfirio Lobo halt its attacks on the peaceful Resistance movement. The National Front for Popular Resistance has documented at least 254 human rights violations, including murder, kidnappings and rape, since Pepe Lobo took over for the de facto government.

The day before the march, Claudia Larisa Brizuela Rodriguez was gunned down in her home in San Pedro Sula. Her two young children, ages 2 and 8, witnessed their mother's murder.

Claudia was the daughter of high-profile Resistance leader and Radio Uno host, Pedro Brizuela. It is believed that Claudia's cowardly assassination is intended to intimidate the resistance movement and independent media. Radio Uno hosts, including Pedro Brizuela, have consistently denounced the abuses and corruption of the post-coup governments, and therefore have become a target of threats. Claudia's is the third murder in just two weeks.

Please join us in calling the State Department's Human Rights desk in order to demand that the U.S. government denounce systematic human rights violations which continue under the Lobo government.

The United States is contributing to the human rights crisis by recognizing the Lobo administration and pressuring others to do so. The UN, OAS, and the vast majority of Latin America have refused to recognize Lobo who is widely considered to have come to power via bogus elections, resulting in an institutionalizatio n of the coup d'état and impunity.

Dial 202-647-4000 and ask for Human Rights Desk at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Alternately, you can ask to speak to the office of Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, who coordinates the work of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Sample script:
Hello, my name is ____________ and I am calling because I am deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Honduras. On Wednesday, Claudia Larisa Brizuela, activist and daughter of prominent member of the resistance movement and opposition media personality Pedro Brizuela, was assassinated in her home in San Pedro Sula in front of her two young children. In recent weeks, other resistance leaders have been attacked and murdered, amounting to over 254 documented human rights violations since Porfirio Lobo took power only a month ago. This represents the continuance of an ongoing policy of state terrorism and aggression that began after the July 2009 coup d'etat.

I ask that the U.S. SOTRONGLY CONDEMN the Lobo administration for continued human rights violations and call for the protection of all human rights defenders and media workers in Honduras, while cutting military aid to the country. I also urge the U.S. to reject the Lobo administration' s proposed Truth Commission, and push for an independent truth process that would thoroughly investigate the human rights violations and other crimes committed under the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, as well as the current Lobo administration, instead of simply whitewashing the coup in Honduras. Thank you."

This alert was written by allies in the Central American solidarity movement.

For more information about the crisis in Honduras, please visit:

Comunicado about the murder from the FNRP:
The Quixote Center:

School of the Americas Watch:

Honduras Resiste:

National Resistance Front Against the Coup (en español):

Thanks very much for helping to stop impunity in Honduras.

Jenny Atlee