By Zoe Watkins —
Heidy Alachán, from the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), spoke to students at the Shumaker Research Building about the Honduras Resistance Oct. 31. She informed students about the recent crisis from 2008 to present day concerning the corruption of the political party in power.
The University of Louisville Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research (ABI), Brandeis Human Rights Advocacy Program, Latin American and Latino Studies and the Cultural Center co-sponsored the event.
“Heidy Alachán has a lot of knowledge of the human rights situation in Honduras which is directly affecting a lot of folks who are coming to Louisville right now directly from Honduras,” said Lizz Perkins, a graduate assistant of ABI.
The regional director of Witness for Peace Southeast Emily Rhyne translated Alachán for the audience since she spoke in her native language. The Witness for Peace Southeast also partnered with MADJ for this event.
A protest sparks a movement.
Alachán began the presentation by explaining how MADJ began in 2008 as a protest. “Four public prosecutors from the public prosecutor office were protesting the corruption in their own agency, so they went on a hunger strike in front of the congressional congress,” Alachán said.
There were cases being ignored about corruption involving directors of the public prosecutor’s office. The hunger strike forced both the attorney general and associate attorney general of the office to resign.
Soon the organization began fighting more than just corruption and impunity. It began defending natural resources, human rights and indigenous reserves in Honduras.
Alachán then began telling the turbulent history of Honduras, working from the present backwards.
A long history of corruption.
She first displayed a news headline explaining that the brother of the Honduras president was convicted in a U.S. federal court for four crimes including drug trafficking.
“The brother of the president, who was also a representative in congress until his arrest, was actually trafficking drugs while serving in congress from 2013 forward,” Alachán said.
Due to the trial, the then president and government were found to be part of the drug trade too.
Alachán explained this trial confirmed that Honduras was a narco state, a state whose economy is dependent on illegal drug trades. The government’s mission was to clear out other cartels so the government-sponsored cartel could have complete control in the country.
“From 2013 and forward, there was a huge emphasis from the new government in power to combat narco trafficking and many narco traffickers were extradited to the United States. But it backfired on them because the very same people who were extradited from Honduras to the U.S. were the key witnesses in this trial that revealed links of the current government in power with narco trafficking,” Alachán said.
Human rights and the increase in militarization were an after-effect of a coup in 2009 Alachán said.
Alachán then went into the long history of government corruption and how the national party gained complete control. They purged the police task force of those who opposed drug trafficking, removed four supreme court justices (where the remaining one became the attorney general later on), intervened in other elections in the government and secured the election of the current president of Honduras through the supreme justices.
“They were preparing the path so that they can legalize the crimes that they were later going to commit,” she stated.
The weakening of institutions has left more than just corruption in the government. Alachán told the audience that many crimes were left un-investigated and social security funds were embezzled to support the national party’s campaign.
However, the most devastating effect was on the country’s health care system.
“They also stole machinery for cancer treatment and other types of treatments. They stole a lot of materials used in treatments, but they also sold false contracts with pharmaceuticals companies where they were selling false medicines. People were not taking their pills to treat their illnesses, they were taking pills made of wheat flour. Because of that, at least 3,000 people died,” Alachán said.
She said laws have been passed for the extraction of natural resources by third party companies too.
“The result of that is that 65 percent of the territory of Honduras is concession with mining concession, hydro-electric concession, photo-voltaic concession and many others,” Alachán explained.
Working against the grain.
With the help of MADJ, the Honduran people have tried combatting against this corruption in an attempt to correct the wrongs made by the government.
“I want people to understand that migration is much more complicated than just talking about gang violence. The situation in Honduras has to do with a deep crisis that has a lot of different elements. It is important to review the role of the United States in the crisis and realizing that the U.S policy provokes the crisis in Honduras,” Alachán said.
Native Honduran and U of L freshman Alexander Ruizreyes still has family there.
“I just found it interesting and insightful since I didn’t really know much about the situation as someone who had to live there during the corruption,” he said.
Senior Jillian Wynn said,“I think often we don’t really adequately cover issues like this because we don’t get to see things from the perspective of somebody who comes from that country, so I thought it was really nice to be told the story by somebody who was actually from Honduras.”
If students would like to get involved in MADJ, Alachán said there are ways for people to get involved in solidarity movements for specific cases and campaigns where students can participate in activities and events on campus. Students can also become distant volunteers where they can help with technical work outside of the country.
Graphic by Shayla Kerr // The Louisville Cardinal