Armed thugs kidnap and threaten international human rights observers in the midst of community resistance struggle against mining project

By Giorgio Trucchi | LINyM (Nicaragua Informational List and More) July 27, 2013

Orlane and Daniel, from France and Switzerland respectively, are international observers from the Honduras Accompaniment Project (Proah)[1]. On Wednesday, they moved to the community of La Nueva Esperanza, Atlántida department, to fulfill their mission as human rights observers amidst a serious conflict that has arisen following the implementation of a new mining project[2].

Not even 24 hours had passed since their arrival when the two observers were surrounded by armed men working for the mining company owner. They were threatened, escorted and placed in a vehicle that was going to leave them in another community.

“They were nervous, with red eyes, punting their guns at us, telling us that we didn’t have anything to do there, and asking us if we were communists. I thought that they were going to shoot us at any moment,” Orlane Vidal told LINyM.

For her, the most worrying thing in this kidnapped and terrorized Honduras is that the horror that they experienced for more than two hours represents the tragic everyday life of thousands and thousands of people in this country who defend their land and natural resources from the greedy clutches of a few businessmen and owners.

LINyM: Exactly what happened yesterday, July 25th?

Orlane Vidal: We arrived at La Nueva Esperanza on Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in the house of a woman named Concepción, who lives about a half hour from the community. She had just denounced the constant harassment and threats from the mining company to convince her to sell her land.

The next morning, she left early and came back around 8:30, warning us that there were armed men in the community who were possibly security guards for the mining company Minerales Victoria. We tried to reassure her, telling her that we were going to talk to them to see what they wanted.

A half hour later 10 men armed with rifles arrived, with strange expressions on their faces, red eyes, as if they were on drugs, accompanied by about 12 or 13 workers with machetes from the mining company, and they surrounded the house. Daniel and I went out and the men pointed their guns at us and began to say that we had nothing to do there, that we were hindering their work in the mine. They asked us several times why we were trying to hide and if we were communists.

We explained our role as observers in Honduras and in the Nueva Esperanza community, but the men became more and more nervous, until suddenly some bursts of gunfire were heard and they loaded their guns, always pointed at us.

LINyM: What happened next?

OV: Suddenly other company workers appeared, who were apparently following Concepcion’s husband, who came running, scared, to where we were standing. At that point we realized that the house was surrounded by more than 40 men armed with guns and machetes. We spent almost a half hour trying to calm the situation, however the supposed security guards became even more nervous and got even closer, telling us that we should leave and go with them. At this point I was afraid of what could happen to us.

Finally, we got our things and they made us walk a half hour on a dirt path, until we got to a vehicle that was waiting for us. The workers tried to be nice to us, while the guards continued pointing their guns at us.

LINYM: Who was in the vehicle?

OV: It was a company vehicle. There was one person inside, who could have been an engineer for the company, and Wilfredo Funes, a member of the community that had always supported the mining project, also got in. Several armed men got in the back.They started the vehicle and began to tell us that we wouldn’t return to the community because something bad could happen to us.

We tried to talk to them and ask them who had sent the armed men. Indirectly they made us understand that it was businessman Lenir Pérez. When we were still in the house a call came and Wilfredo Funes told us, “the head boss wants to talk to you”. When we responded, “Who? Lenir Pérez?” and they realized that we already knew about him, the person hung up.

Finally they left us in the Nueva Florida community and there, with the help of COFADEH[3] and Proah, we were able to return to Tegucigalpa.

LINyM: At any point did you think that your life was in danger?

OV: The armed men were out of control and very unsettled, nervous, as if nothing that was happening mattered to them, nor our lives. Later we heard the bursts of gunfire. In this moment I thought that they were going to shoot us and that there could have been a murder in the community. However, what worried me the most is what the people of the community are experiencing. For us, there were two hours of terror, but for the people there, it’s something that never ends, it’s daily. In this sense, we have to use what has happened to denounce nationally and internationally what is occurring in this region. I’m filled with a strong rage and this is going to give us the strength to continue doing our work.
[1] The Honduras Accompaniment Project, Proah, is a project out of the Friendship Office of the Americas, an American organization that began immediately after the coup in 2009. It is composed of international observers who provide physical accompaniment to human rights defenders, including people or organizations from social and community movements.

[2] Minerales Victoria, the company belonging to Lenir Pérez, was granted 1,000 hectares. Pérez is the son-in-law of landowner Miguel Facussé, owner of the Alutech company, which is part of EMCO Investments. The land granted to Pérez includes 16 communities whose economy is based on raising livestock and who have lost their source of income through the depletion or pollution of the streams and natural springs. For this reason, the communities are firm in stating their opposition to the entry of the company on their land. This has resulted in threats and pressure to sell their plots of land (more information here).

[3] Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared