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Not a Crime

Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective

Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective declares our solidarity with 9 members of the Tolupán community of San Francisco de Locomapa who are being prosecuted for defending their own ancestral territory.

On May 17, 2019, Celso Alberto Cabrera, Maria Angela Murillo, Ramón Matute, Sergio Ávila, Óscar Vieda, Óscar Amado Cabrera, Wendy Pineda Lopez, Alisson Pineda Lopez, and Jose Maria Pineda were arrested and charged with obstructing the “forest management project” which has allowed for the aggressive logging of the pine forest in their territory. This “project” is overseen by the Honduran forest management agency, the Institute of Forest Conservation (ICF), who directly assist the private logging corporation INMARE. Community members are being charged by INMARE with obstruction, and by the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s office with harming the public interest. We denounce the targeted criminalization of these defenders of land and the natural environment by the Honduran state, as well as private corporations’ participation in extractivism and dispossession of Indigenous peoples through criminalization. We recognize criminalization as a tactic to silence dissent, and reaffirm that the act of defending nature is not a crime.

As human rights observers, we have witnessed a pattern of violations of the rights of the community of San Francisco Locomapa. This community has endured ongoing marginalization and discrimination by the state, resulting in extreme poverty, violent repression, and fear. Since 2013, 38 individuals, their families, as well as anyone in the community who is participating with the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia have been recipients of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) due to their elevated level of risk. According to the IACHR as well as the Honduran government’s own Protection Mechanism, the nine individuals who have been arrested were supposed to have been awarded a set of special protections due to their status as land and human rights defenders. Instead, the state is conveniently absent when the community needs protection, but makes itself available to repress and criminalize them. Despite their special status, police have only responded to calls for help from these community members once: in January 2019 in response to this call, the police threw teargas at them and into their homes, including one home with a newborn child. On February 25, 2019, Ramón Matute’s father and brother, Salomón and Samael Matute, were murdered. Police were nowhere to be found during and in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and officials from the Public Prosecutor’s office have openly stated in front of the community, observers from Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that there has been no progress in the investigation despite an abundance of witnesses to the murder in the community.

Over the course of multiple Solidarity Collective visits to the community between February and June, the pace of deforestation was noticeable and alarming. On a visit with a delegation of observers in early April, participants suffered headaches and coughs from the smoke that surrounded the community due to burning trees, and we observed ICF and National Police escorting logging trucks while fires were allowed to burn. Community members described suffering from various respiratory problems, in addition to the dramatic changes we could all easily witness in the health of the forest.

Unfortunately, across Honduras, people who defend land, nature, and human rights face criminalization. Those who stand in the way of the extractivist model suffer defamation, criminal charges, violence, and assassination. This pattern of violence has deepened as extractivism has grown stronger in the ten years following the coup d’etat and especially under the current administration of Juan Orlando Hernández. The extractivist model and suppression of resistance to it is made possible only through the support of the United States government.  As a proponent of extractivism, the United States maintains a vested interest in Honduras, providing funding and training to the security forces that use force against communities to ensure these projects come into fruition.  San Francisco Locomapa faces the consequences of these policies, but exacerbated by the legacy of racism towards indigenous peoples in Honduras, whose rights continue to be stripped.  Over 100 Tolupán leaders have been murdered in the last twenty years of active resistance to extractivism. Since 2013, 8 leaders of San Francisco Locomapa have been murdered, and all of these murders remain in impunity.  We recognize the same pattern identified by the Movimiento Amplio: “First they rob the land, then they criminalize and those they can’t are murdered.”

We affirm that these nine indigenous leaders did not commit any crimes; defending your land is not a crime.  The community holds ancestral title to the land, documented since 1864, which confirms their rights to territory, land, natural resources, and consultation for prior consent.  No fair consultation took place prior to the implementation of this management plan. Honduras has ratified International Labor Organization Convention 169 (ILO 169), which requires free, prior, and informed consent before any project is initiated in indigenous territory, meaning that there must be an open, self-directed process that is not coerced or manipulated by outside forces to allow the indigenous community to decide whether or not they agree to a project.  However, the company, assisted by the ICF, continued with their plan, illegally logging in their territory. The community filed numerous complaints to the Public Ministry’s Office, but received no response. By peacefully blocking the passage of logging trucks, the defenders were merely manifesting their right as indigenous people to protest when their right to prior consent is violated.

We, the Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, give our full-fledged support to these wrongfully accused environmental defenders.  We want to reiterate the following demands:

1.The innocence of these nine indigenous leaders be recognized through the dismissal of this case.

2. The State of Honduras respect and guarantee the right to prior, free and informed consultation established in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and other international standards.

3.The General Direction of the Protection Mechanism in Honduras, under the charge of Cristóbal Martínez, comply with its broken promise to convene an inter-agency meeting to discuss the human rights situation and the forest management plan in the Tolupán community of San Francisco Locomapa. The agency promised to schedule this meeting in early May 2019 but no action has been taken.

4.End the violence and discrimination against the Tolupán tribe of San Francisco Locomapa and investigate and punish those who have violated their human rights.

5.Recognition of the ancestral title of 1864 in favor of the indigenous people of the Tolupán people.

6.Justice for the material and intellectual authors of the murders against members of the Tolupán tribe of San Francisco Locomapa.  

Our Honduras International Team will be observing this process as well as providing physical accompaniment.  However, we want to increase the visibility to raise awareness about the injustice occurring in Honduras and how we, as US citizens, are connected.  

Solidarity Actions YOU Can Take

1.There’s something you can do! We are calling for pictures in international solidarity with this community. Take a picture of yourself, your friends, your colleagues, your classmates, and whoever you can, holding signs saying "#NoEsDelito" and "Solidaridad con la comunidad Tolupán" to be posted and shared for their court date next Monday, June 24. Please use the hashtag #noesdelito and #DignidadTolupan and tag @MADJHN and @wfpsolidaritycollective and share your photos publicly on Facebook and Twitter. Join us in supporting this community!

2. Once you have taken and shared your solidarity pictures, support the Berta Cáceres Act. The Act works to stop the longer term, systemic problem of US military aid being used to fund human rights abuses in Honduras, such as the US-supplied tear gas that was used against this same community. Ask your representative to co-sponsor this important


In solidarity, The Honduras team


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