The migrant caravan and the murder of a Saudi journalist

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Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by a US ally has sparked outrage in the US, but dozens of journalists murdered under US-backed regimes in Honduras go unnoticed.

The murder of Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi was especially blatant. He entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey to pick up legal documents that would allow him to marry his fiancée. He never left. Turkish authorities claim to have recordings that prove he was tortured, killed and dismembered by Saudi officials in the consulate.

Khashoggi’s murder has provoked a storm of criticism in the US. Trump is defending Saudi Arabia as a close ally who buys billions of dollars of military equipment from US companies and supports the US against “terrorism” and Iranian and Syrian influence.

Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Some Republicans, like senator Lindsey Graham, have broken with the president and promised serious economic sanctions against Saudi Arabia if its government is found responsible. Others, like several House Republicans, have begun a “whisper campaign” to defame Khashoggi as a terrorist sympathizer and so defend President Trump.

Yet similar crimes linked to state security forces in Honduras draw no attention. In January 2017, television journalist Igor Padilla was gunned down by four men in police uniforms. His cameraman, Edvin Rivera Paz, fled to Mexico to seek refugee status, but was killed there in July.

Honduran journalist Igor Padilla.

In 2012, the body of journalist Alfredo Villatoro was found in fatigues used by the US-trained special forces unit called the COBRAS. The list goes on. Dozens of journalists have been killed in Honduras in recent years, including 34 from 2012 to 2016, according to the Latin American Federation of Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists explains that violence skyrocketed after a US-supported coup in 2009:

“Conditions in Honduras are more dire and the country presents its neighbor with a cautionary tale. The 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya resulted in a societal breakdown that spawned a wave of politically motivated murders and anti-press violence.”

Honduran journalist Alfredo Villatoro.

International organizations that monitor human rights in Honduras confirm that the violence also targets activists. A 2017 Global Witness report concluded:

“More than 120 people have died since 2010, according to Global Witness research. The victims were ordinary people who took a stand against dams, mines, logging or agriculture on their land – murdered by state forces, security guards or hired assassins. Countless others have been threatened, attacked or imprisoned.”

The report, based on a two-year investigation, shows “how projects at the heart of conflicts are linked to the country’s rich and powerful elites, among them members of the political class.” It also “sheds light on the back-door deals, bribes and lawbreaking used to impose projects and silence opposition [and explains] how the US is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks.”

Alan Garcia, 17, was shot in the chest as he was protesting a hydroelectric dam on his community’s land. The military opened fire, wounding others and killing his father. Courtesy of Global Witness.

Those who deposed President Zelaya in a 2009 military coup claimed it was because he would seek reelection. And yet the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, faced no institutional resistance when he changed the constitution and won a second term despite serious allegations of election fraud in December 2017. Though the Organization of American States called for new elections, the US quickly recognized the results.

As protests against the election gained strength, Honduran radio station Radio Progreso’s antennae were sabotaged and it went off the air. The radio’s director, Jesuit Father Ismael Morena (pictured in the headline image), said, “We’re in a critical situation in this country. Radio Progreso has accompanied the voices that are questioning the election fraud and further denounces all the trampling of human rights by the current administration, which now seeks reelection. On our part, and as the head of Radio Progreso, I hold the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández directly responsible for this sabotage.”

Lenca activist Berta Cáceres was murdered for her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam in 2016. Two of her colleagues have since been killed.

The increasing power of the Honduran elite under successive post-coup administrations has wreaked havoc on the Honduran state and economy. This is why thousands of people flee Honduras for the US every month despite the journey’s grave dangers. Grahame Russell of Rights Action explains:

“The US and Canadian governments, the US military, and North American businesses and investors (hydro-electric dams, mining, African palm, tourism, cattle, fruit, etc.) maintain profitable relations with corrupt, repressive governments in Honduras and Guatemala, turning a blind eye to and benefitting from repression, environmental devastation, human rights violations, corruption and impunity.”

Members of a caravan of asylum seekers from Honduras and Guatemala. October 2018.

Russell continues, “Once in a while, the mainstream North American media reports on the plight of tens of thousands of Guatemalans and Hondurans fleeing, year after year, decade after decade… ignoring why they flee.”

By Richard Brown / Editor

Headline image: Father Ismael Moreno of Radio Progreso stands with protesters in Honduras. 2017. Courtesy of Radio Progreso.