Chrystia Freeland’s statements regarding the violent situation in Honduras were purposefully tepid and ambiguous. This is because Canada and the Liberal party furtively support the presidency of brutal tyrant, Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Indeed, within the past month, Honduras and its people have been thrust into a dire situation. Widespread discontentment with recent political developments has left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured. It bears mentioning that this violence is ordered directly from the president, along with top-ranks of the military/government.
Recent protests are due to Hernandez’s alleged vote rigging. Indeed, the OAS (Organization of American states) has even called for a new vote, due to “irregularities”. Many international observers, the opposing candidates and media, including the New York Times and Economist, have disputed the results and have demonstrated calculations which reveal a high likeliness that the election was fixed.
The TSE – the Supreme Electoral Tribunal – the body which counts the votes for Honduras, showed that 12 hours into the election or so, Salvador Nasralla, the opposing candidate, was in the lead by 5%. Ostensibly, this insurmountable lead means that it would be practically impossible for Hernandez to take the lead. However, following the result on November 27th, the TSE, suspended publication of the results, and once they came back online on November 28th, the lead shifted toward Hernandez. A more detailed explanation can be found here.
Hernandez, during his presidency, has proven to be a brutal tyrant who has imposed a climate of fear amongst the citizens living there. During his presidency from 2013-2017, hundreds have been killed by military/police forces and hundreds more have been threatened and many have been illegally detained (at least 1200). Many more citizens report being beaten by military/police forces for simply peacefully protesting against a hostile government.
Hernandez has also proven to be a pliable leader in the face of foreign investment – which has resulted in the destruction/poisoning of the environment, displacement of indigenous people and the exploitation of the Honduran proletariat. Hernandez, a brazenly corrupt leader, also supported the illegal appointment of a new attorney general to a five-year post and sacked four members of the supreme court replacing them the next day with supporters of his rule, who then passed a constitutional amendment, changing the Honduran Constitution which would allow Hernandez to run for another term.
Last week, Hernandez was officially declared president. Following this result, protests have continued to flourish even in the face of brutal repression, violence and threats of assassination.
Canada, and the Liberals, who support the regime of Hernandez said:
“Canada is closely following the post-election situation in Honduras. We lament the deaths and injuries that have occurred as a result of violence following the election. Those responsible must be held accountable.”
“Canada calls upon the Honduran authorities to reinstate constitutional rights and guarantees without delay. Democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law must be upheld.”
Indeed, these ambiguous comments highlight the fact that there is a serious problem befalling the Hondurans, yet it conveniently tiptoes around who is responsible for this violence – which is Hernandez and his regime.
This is because Canada and the Liberals support the Hernandez regime at the behest of the Honduran people.
Canada’s murky relationship with Honduras dates back to the 2009 coup d’etat of Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras was exiled from the country in June 2009 when masked soldiers stormed his house and forced him on a jet to Costa Rica. Following this, the de-facto regime of Roberto Micheletti illegally took power in the country.
The coup was a result of Zelaya’s increasing moderate reforms which upset the oligarchic and military class of the country enough that they undertook an illegal coup to force him out of power.
Following the coup, Canada positioned itself as a dispassionate observer, however, analysis shows that Canada backed the regime of Michelleti and then the soon elected Lobo, to Zelaya.
Indeed, during the time of turmoil, between June and Nov 2009 (the time between the next election), instead of condemning Micheletti and Lobo, Canadian government officials instead, publically criticized Zelaya for his attempts to return to the country
When Zelaya attempted to return to the country two months before the elections, only to be detained at the Brazilian embassy, Peter Kent, the Minister of American States at the time, said that his “attempts to return to the country are unhelpful to the situation.”
Zelaya, during this time, was the democratically elected president and was supported by the overwhelming majority of Honduras, most who were protesting on the streets during this time. Moreover, many countries still recognized Zelaya as the president, along with the OAS, who unequivocally called for his “immediate and unconditional return”.
Kent went even further, arguing that Zelaya bore responsibility for his removal from office. During an OAS meeting, he stated that, “the coup was certainly an affront to the region, but there is a context in which these events happened … There has to be an appreciation of the events that led up to the coup”. Kent appears to be blaming Zelaya for the coup and attempts to justify the illegal and unconstitutional behaviour of the perpetrators.
Conservative MP, Dave Van Kesteren, took the Canadian position even farther when he stated that, “We really need to set the record straight. The very fact that the coup took place was because the country was drifting toward Hugo Chávez, that type of regime, and the influence that he’s exerting on a lot of southern … Let’s make no mistake about it. A real power struggle is taking place, and it’s what we believe in as a free society; that’s to have freedom of goods, what we call the unguided hand, as opposed to total government control or freedom versus totalitarianism, prosperity versus poverty”.
Again, these comments were made in a context when Canada failed to publically utter one word of condemnation surrounding the crackdown against anti-coup protesters, along with their freedom of expression and assembly, and the subsequent violence that followed.
To properly illustrate the situation in Honduras during this time, we should note that between June and November over hundreds of thousands of people were protesting, one protest lasting 161 days straight. According to Tyler Shipley’s book Canada and the military coup in Honduras, from June to Nov 2009, the state violence that followed in the face of a dissenting populace, resulted in the death of 30 to 40 people and the detention of hundreds more. Even so, hundreds more were beaten, kidnapped and raped. Any media critical of the coup also was repressed and shut down. This brutal treatment of its citizens, although something rather commonplace out of the 1980s Cold War environment of Latin America, apparently deserved no specific condemnation of the government by Canada.
In contrast here is John Baird’s comments on the Malian coup, which overthrew a leader sympathetic to Canadian business interests:
“”Canada utterly condemns this attack on democracy by a faction of Mali’s military,” Baird said. “The democratic will of the Malian people must be respected.”
Baird continues: “We call on those behind this coup to immediately withdraw so that constitutional order, peace and stability may be restored.”
He also stated: “The perpetrators of the coup d’etat in Mali need to be sent a clear message, that democracy, constitutional order and stability must be restored in Mali, also adding that “Canada will not in any way back this illegitimate rule.”
So why did Canada, at the time, support the coup, and the regime of Lobo and now Hernandez? Simply put, it’s because Zelaya showed mild obstinancy towards the demands of foreign capital, along with an unwillingness to carry out violence towards those peacefully protesting for recognition of their rights, whereas Lobo and Hernandez have proven willing to carry out whatever is necessary to ensure a smooth environment for MNC’s to conduct business, a lot of which is to the detriment of the people of Honduras.
Zelaya, for example, planned to reform the mining sector. He edited the mining code which prohibited open-pit mining along with adding modifications which would’ve significantly reduced foreign control of mines.
Indeed, Canadian mining companies are the largest investor in that specific sector in Honduras.
Moreover, just behind America, Canada is the second largest investor in Honduras with FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) of $600 million and climbing.
It has then, been in the Canadian governments best interests to maintain an attractive business environment in Honduras for Canadian multinationals.
This can be confirmed by the simple fact that bilateral trade between the two countries increased by 9.3% from 2009-2010 in the first years of the coup. It jumped over 22% in 2011 and from 2015, after the signing of the FTA, that number had nearly doubled from the 2011 total.
Indeed, following Zelaya’s exile, federal agencies did not wait long to establish connections with Micheletti, as according to Gordon and Webber’s book Blood of Extraction, FAIT ”established, after the coup, a Canada business advocacy council in Honduras composed of Canadian investors In order, as one report notes, to ‘facilitate dialogue with the host government.’ That “host government would be the Micheletti dictatorship”.
The same report also advises that embassy officials “remain in close contact with all Canadian investors in Honduras, and regularly visit their investments including in the extractive and textile sector.”
Aside from supporting the illegal Michelletti government, Canada also supported the election win of Porfirio Lobo, which was internationally recognized by many as a sham election. It was recognized as such, as the environment in which the election was conducted in, was simply an illegitimate place for any semblance of a legal election to take place. Indeed, as noted above, there was, in Honduras, according to Shipley “widespread repression, military lockdown, state terror and tight control of the media.” Subsequently, there was a 25-30% voter turnout in a country in an otherwise highly politically active populace.
Following the results, Kent, apparently with his eyes closed, lauded the Honduran people for “relatively peaceful and orderly elections”, run “freely and fairly” with a “strong turnout” and “no major violence”. Kent at the time also travelled to Honduras in Feb and Aug 2010 following Lobo’s inauguration. Not only was this intended to express support for the isolated Lobo regime, but it was according to a report, “very much intended to support Canadian capital’s push for greater access to the Honduran market.”
Furthermore, according to Gordon and Webber, Canadian ambassador to Honduras (Neil) Reeder and “CIDA head (Daniel) Arsenault accompanied Canadian mining executives from Breakwater Resources and Aura Minerales in a series of ‘high level calls’ on Honduran political leaders”, these including Juan Hernandez, and President Lobo himself. Arsenault reported that Hernandez “was well disposed to Canada and to our investment posture in the country.” He also reported “we were facilitating private sector discussions with the new government in order to promote a comprehensive mining code to give clarity and certainty to our investments.”
He also reported that “there appears to be, a political opening in Honduras to advance discussions on a comprehensive mining code.” This opening, Arsenault is referring to, is the military coup, the brutal repression and the government that illegally seized power.
There was no mention, or apparent apprehension of the ethical implications in conducting business with a brutal tyrant, rather Canadian government officials, along with business executives, worked diligently to nurture a relationship with the new government of the Lobo regime.
Furthermore, Canadian officals also, according to Gordon and Webber, arranged meetings in early 2010 between Gildan Activewear and representatives of the new Lobo government. At the same time, as Sandra Cuffe reports, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development “provided funding via its aid envelope for technical assistance of Honduras’ nascent hydrocarbons sector”, this demonstrating that the government does not only provide logistical and diplomatic support for MNC’s, but financial support as well. More examples of this can be found in Gordon/Webber’s book.
The zenith for Canada’s support of the Lobo regime however, was the FTA signed by Harper and Lobo in 2011. The FTA not only granted another layer of legitimization towards the coup-d’etat regime, but has also proven in itself to be, “a disastrous agreement”, as testified by many experts in parliamentary hearings. Harper, following the signing of the FTA, also pledged support for $9.2 million dollars in undisclosed support for security plans in the country. The Canadian government, at the time was therefore not only facilitating business development, a lot of which is to the detriment of the Honduran people, but is also funding the security apparatus necessary to carry out the brutality which grants the stability for MNC’s to carry out their operations.
Following the signing of the FTA, only six months later, a new mining code was amended by Lobo, which, according to El Heraldo, a Honduran newspaper, used “Canadian funds to analyze the law in order to ensure that it include[d] minimum international standards and such that the experience of Canada is also reflected in the law.”
This new mining code has emboldened Aura Minerales, a mining company based in Canada to undertake one of their more controversial projects. This project is the creation of an open-pit mine in the community of Azaculapa, which, in order to proceed, has required the workers to excavate and relocate a 200 year graveyard. They have allegedly done this without the consent, and at the behest of the community, and the family members of the deceased. Moreover, according to a report written, “if mining is undertaken in Cerro Cementerio, it would render unstable and thus uninhabitable the area of an adjoining mountain where the town of Azacualpa is located.”
This has, unsurprisingly resulted in a large amount of protests in that area, some of whom have been detained and even threatened by police. This demonstrates how the Hernandez government is used as a handmaiden of sorts to foreign capital, as the judicial system is used to detain people who are an impediment to the projects.
Aura Minerales is also undergoing a controversial mining technique known as open-pit mining which in the San Martin mine in Honduras’ Siria Valley for example, resulted in heavy deforestation and poisoning of the water supply. Indeed, scientific study of the water used for human consumption found in two of the Siria Valley communities dangerously high levels of arsenic, lead and mercury. Blood testing from people of this community found that 46 of 62 people tested had dangerously high levels of heavy metals poisoning in their blood that would have required immediate and sustained medical treatment.” From 2002 to 2010, as a result of open-pit mining, the amount of people living with skin diseases in Siria Valley jumped from 8% to 80% respectively. Again, this project would not be possible without the Lobo, and now the Hernandez government, which Canada has eagerly supported.
Moreover, Gildan Activewear, Honduras’ largest private sector employer, has been known to heavily exploit their workers which, according to Maria Luisa Regaldado of the Women’s Collective of Honduras, has “become worse since the coup of 2009.”
In an open letter to Stephen Harper, Regaldado lamented that, “Gildan Activewear is violating the constitution of the Honduran republic and other labour laws, by implementing long work days and a system of unachievable production quotas.” The WRC, a US-based labour NGO has provided horrifying examples of how these workers were treated, and CODEMUH, a labour organization has filed hundreds of reports of health violatons and inhumane acts of exploitation. We should note that Zelaya, during his presidency, raised the minimum wage and implemented labor protection laws which were subsequently amended by the Lobo and Hernandez government.
Even more so, Randy Jorgenson and other Canadian investors, have taken to the business industry of tourism and land development in Honduras, more specifically in and near the city of Trujillo, which has resulted in the subsequent displacement and forced removal of many communities living on this land. The Garifuna people, who have been displaced from their communities contend that the land was obtained without the proper consent of the Garifuna communities residing there.
Already Jorgenson and company has developed housing, infrastructure and villas on land which once belonged to Garifuna communities, with land claims dating back as far as 150 years ago.
Moreover, David Forseth, one of the main investors in the project, is currently imposing charges against many of those protesting against his projects. He has allegedly filed charges against Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda and three other women. Many protesters have faced death threats, along with harassment, in the face of dispossession from their own communities.
This is another example of how the apparati of the Honduran corrupt post-coup regime is exploited to the benefit of foreign investors.
Lobo’s endorsement for this behaviour is further illustrated on Jorgenson’s website, Life Vision, where he is shown speaking to direct investors, saying “we have a new legal and regulatory framework for investment promotion and protection making us one of the most attractive places to invest in Latin America.”
Through all the examples provided, it is clear that the Canadian government supported the right-wing regime of Lobo, and now Hernandez.
Therefore, Freeland’s statements, along with recognition of Hernandez in the Honduran election, further cement how the Liberals have turned a blind eye to the plight of the Hondurans, while demonstrating its support for the Hernandez regime. No doubt, the statements written, were not out of any genuine concern for human rights, but were rather a form of political posturing, as not to look bad in the international spotlight.
Were it for any genuine concern of human rights, Canada would rightly denounce the Hernandez regime for brutal state-imposed violence, along with the vote rigging in his favour. However, as demonstrated above, Hernandez and Canadian business interests go hand and hand, so it is not in the Liberals best favour to shine a negative spotlight on their man in Honduras.
Further Liberal support for the Honduran resident is shown through Chrystia Freeland’s justification and support of Harper’s FTA, along with the silence from the Trudeau government on the assassination of Berta Caceres, the most internationally recognized activist out of Honduras.
It bears to say that Canada and Trudeau who purports himself to be a purveyor of human rights around the world, should speak out against Hernandez. However, as we know, this is very unlikely to happen.
It is clear then, for the Liberals, that business interests in Honduras take precedence, and just like the Harper government, death and destruction for the people of Honduras appear for the Trudeau government to be simply business as usual. Trudeau’s stance on Honduras undermines lofty claims of providing “real change” for Canadians, as the Liberals, have proven not to be purveyors of human rights, but actually the opposite, enablers – granting Hernandez with the impunity to commit acts of terror, brutality and violence against his people, all for the sake of business interests.
Certainly, following the declaration by Global Affairs Canada that: “Canada acknowledges confirmation of Juan Orlando Hernandez as President of #Honduras. We urge the Government to protect #humanrights & ensure that those responsible for violations are held accountable. Political dialogue is urgently needed for peace & stability for all Hondurans”, it should further hammer the point that the Liberals, are not purveyors of human rights as they like to proclaim, but exploiters, and it bears mentioning that this type of behaviour is not isolated to Honduras, but is rather endemic, in Latin America, and many other developing countries around the world.