Friday, July 8, 2011. The death threats against Father Fausto Milla, a commissioner with the Commission of Truth, and his assistant Denia Mejía have escalated recently, resulting in their decision to leave the county this Friday. They said good-bye to fellow Hondurans during a press conference at the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH).
Milla’s parish is in Corquín, in the department of Copán, and his parishioners are mostly rural poor and indigenous peoples, and Milla has initiated efforts to organize the population to defend their human rights and reclaim their culture. He has helped many poor families with illnesses to survived, helping them with nutritional techniques.
In the 1970s and 1980s he was followed by the police and the military, who classified him as a “guerilla,” resulting in Milla taking refuge in Mexico, where he learned more about natural medicine and dedicated himself to healing.
At that time, besides being parish priest in Corquín, Milla also worked as director of Caritas (Catholic Charities) in his diocese. As part of that work he gave protection to Salvadoran refugees, resulting in the persecution from police and military.
His public denouncement of the massacre of Río Sumpul, which occurred on May 14, 1980, aggravated the situation. More than 600 inhabitants of the Salvadoran towns of San Jacinto and La Arada were fleeing, terrified, from the Salvadoran and Honduran police and military when they were murdered in a matter of hours. Few survived.
Saturday, May 24th of the same year, Milla denounced the act from his pulpit, saying it was being ignored by the responsible authorities, and that’s when he was accused by the military and police of organizing guerilla groups and amassing arms.
En February of 1981, Milla returned from Mexico to participate in the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. He was kidnapped by a Battalion 3-16 death squad who held him for six days in La Flecha, Santa Bárbara, where they tortured him and later abandoned him.
Father Milla has been the object of acts of harassment, surveillance, and death threats. On Wednesday, June 29th, his assistant Denia Mejía, who will accompany him in his exile, found a death threat in the institutional email account of the Honduran Ecumenical Institute for Community Services (INEHSCO). The e-mail was sent as a warning, and included threats veiled as extortion attempts, where the authors granted a period of 48 hours to make a deposit of $35,000, or Milla would be killed.
In the past two weeks there have been calls made from unknown numbers demanding to know Milla’s daily routine, an unusual presence of police offices in the vicinity of his health centre in Corquín, unknown men entering the health centre where Milla’s patients are resting, and he has continued to be followed at a short distance by vehicles with tinted windows.
Bertha Oliva, the co-ordinator of COFADEH, stated that leaving one’s country is not an easy decision. “We hope that his leave is for a short time, we have to insist on the necessity of their return to their people. There is no doubt that we are in a state of total defencelessness, where they are asking for amnesia for past crimes, they are demanding that we forgive them, put look what happens to Enrique Flores Lanza, who believed in the agreements, he came back to his country and now he’s facing a political trial.”
The human rights defender informed journalists that information regarding the threats against Father Milla and Denia were presented to the corresponding instances, but nothing has been done, they have responded with silence.
The scene became emotional when when Nohemí Pérez, in the name of COFADEH, offered Father Milla a white handkerchief, which is a symbol of the organization’s struggle since the 1980s in search of their family members who were forcibly disappeared by State security apparatus of Honduras. “With sadness in my hard and in the name of our organization I offer you this handkerchief as a simple of hope, and that we are not saying ‘good-bye,’ but ‘see you soon’.”
The words of Gladys Lanza, National Co-ordinator of the ‘Visitación Padilla’ Women’s Movement for Peace moved those in attendance when she placed a hand on her chest and expressed to the priest the pain that she felt over the situation he was going through, and assured him that he would return to his homeland.
Oscar Flores, on behalf of the National Front of Popular Resistance, offered Milla a red handkerchieff with an image of Che Guevara, and with tears in his eyes showed the priest the affection held for him by the population in resistance.
In a press release, the Union of Workers of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (SITRAUNAH) expressed their solidarity with the religious leader and registered their condemnation in relation to the death threats he had received from the oligarchy and other power groups and demanded an end to the persecution against Father Milla.
They have as their weapon the millions they’ve stolen from children
Milla put special emphasis on the fact that poverty in Honduras is a consequence of the millions that the oligarchy has taken from the mouths of approximately 400 thousand malnourished children. “Stolen mouthfuls: this is how they’ve accumulated their millions, this is how they’ve gained control of the country. They have the military, the police, their private armies, and they have the authority to commit the worst barbarities against young people.”
He added that the oligarchs are trying to paralyse the country; “we will not let ourselves be paralysed, they want us to leave here, they want the campesinos (peasant farmers) in the Aguán to leave there as a result of so much torture, and they want to convert the land into dollars.”
I leave with great sadness
Denia Mejía expressed that she is leaving the country with great sadness because she is leaving her family, with whom she has no t even been able to share all the details of what has happened, because of concerns for their well-being and her own.
Below is the statement that COFADEH released at the press conference:
We condemn the fact that Father Fausto Milla must leave in forced exile
The Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) profoundly laments to the national and international community that Honduras must leave their country in exile.
This time it is Father Fausto Milla, a Commissioner with the Commission of Truth, along with his assistant Denia Mejía, who due to repeated acts of surveillance and persecution, who has recently decided that to best protect his life he must leave his homeland, which he has fought for for decades in order to achieve social transform ation that will result in a more dignified live for all.
This decision has been difficult, but the incidents of insecurity have been increasing in intensity, which it is believed clearly demonstrates a strategy to obstruct his community work and particularly his work with the Commission of Truth, which will be presenting it’s report on the events that occurred before and after the coup d’état, as well as the serious human rights violations that took place, and who was responsible for them.
Other members of the Commission have also been subject to attacks, which have been made known nationally and internationally. This systematic pattern, occurring since September 2010, concerns us.
We offer an embrace of solidarity to Father Milla and Denia, we consider exile to be an act that violates human rights and that results in feelings of rootlessness in those who are subject to it.
Since the coup d’état in Honduras on June 28, 2011, 200 people have fled persecution in the country in order to save their lives, and they can’t return because the human rights situation in the country is worse than when they left.
We denounce that although the formal denouncement has be made to the Ministry of the Attorney General, no investigative actions have been taken to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice or to protect the lives of Padre Milla, Denia, and other members of the Commission of Truth.
We demand that immediate action be taken to cease the insecurity that Father Milla and Denia are experiencing so that they can return to their country, which they never should have had to leave.
Friday, 08 July 2011 22:41 Dina Meza, COFADEH
Traduccion, Honduras Accompaniment Project