Journey to the murder capital of the world


The Martlet’s web editor, Liz McArthur, recently went on — and is still wrapping up — a trip to Honduras. She arrived halfway through a 10-day human rights observation mission. She joined about a dozen other people — mostly from the United States — in poll monitoring during the country’s primary elections on Nov. 18. She also travelled to three different areas of the country to talk with campesinos (peasant farmers) about their complaints regarding land rights violations; health concerns over a closing mine; and the work of local activist and political groups. 

In this piece, written for the Martlet before she departed, she explains her reasons for going.

Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed members of Rights Action, a group that works on human rights issues in Central America, and I am slowly become familiar with the issues of the region. These groups hold somewhat regular education missions to Central and South America, and I’ve always wanted to take part in one; somehow, this year seemed like the time to go.

This delegation is organized by the Alliance for Global Justice, a member of the larger Honduran Solidarity Network, and there is concern among the activists and campesinos about this round of elections. Their president, Manuel Zelaya, was deposed in a semi-military coup in 2009, a story I remember reading on-air while I was working as a radio journalist. After the coup, a grassroots resistance movement sprang up and then formed a political party. They have a candidate — Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of the former president — who will make a bid for president in next year’s election.

In the lead up to this trip, I’ve been attuned to any news about Honduras, most of which is pretty grim, and we have strict precautions in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the group. The country has been dubbed the Murder Capital of the World, and the slaying of Honduran lawyers and journalists continues while allegations of police involvement are being levied.

Some of the campesinos also say they are being forced off their ancestral land by rich landowners, and many of the activists accuse these landowners of funding death squads that carry out assassinations with impunity. Despite the general tone of fear and outrage in most of what I read about the country, I am looking forward to meeting the campesinos and others who are part of these grassroots movements and learning a little about their lives.

I don’t speak Spanish, but the closer I get to actually being in the country, the more I wish I could. I’m limited to the more or less useless (in this context) “mas cervesas por favor.” I have a phrase book that I’m bringing with me, and there are translators in the group. I’ve also been assured that not speaking Spanish won’t be a problem.  The group is an interesting mix of people, many with lengthy backgrounds in activism in Central America along with one other journalist.

And then, after a stopover in Ottawa, I’ll be back on the 26th — just in time to cast my vote in Victoria’s federal by-election.

If you find yourself particularly interested in current Honduran affairs, al Jazeera English is an excellent spot to start.