|SOA Watch Delegation Blocked from Reaching Rio Blanco|
On Wednesday, November 20, an SOA Watch delegation together with a US-El Salvador Sister Cities delegation and Canadian jounalists, were blocked from reaching the Indigenous Lenca community of La Tejera, Rio Blanco. The Lenca people of Rio Blanco have been resisting the construction of an illegal hydroelectric dam in their territory for over 8 months and as a result Tomas Garcia was murdered by the Honduran military during a protest on July 15th. The zone is militarized and community leaders are receive death threats and are routinely harassed and intimidated by the police and other armed men that operate in the area. The 18 member of the delegations were impeded from traveling to Rio Blanco by a DESA security guard, dressed in civilian clothes, and others believed to be paid or manipulated by DESA with the collusion of the Honduran National Police.
For approximately 5 hours, our vehicles were prevented advancing on the public road and we were told that international groups shouldn't visit Rio Blanco and that they didn't want us to visit Rio Blanco. It was clear that the people blocking us did not want us to learn about the struggle of the Lenca people to stand up for their rights nor the new death threats facing them. In fact, this road blockade is part of a systematic effort to isolate the people of Rio Blanco, who live in a very rural community, so that they will not be able to denounce the death threats and attacks they are facing. Already, the courts have prohibited three leaders of the Indigenous Lenca organization COPINH from visiting Rio Blanco and the blocking of international delegations is another way of isolating and preventing the Lenca people from denouncing human rights violations.
This is also part of the intimidation of international human rights and electoral observers in the context of the elections. There were numerous accredited electoral observers in the delegation and the delegation was interested in talking to the people of La Tejera about if they would be able to freely exercise their right to vote in the context of the intimidation and threats they are facing. The delegation was quite concerned that on Sunday, electoral observers could also be prevented from reaching Rio Blanco to observe the voting. In fact, we are concerned that one of the voting certificates posted from this area on the TSE website shows a high level of null votes (votes that are thrown out) and all the of the name of the table workers appear to be written in the same handwriting.
It is notable that the police told us that if we wanted to be able to pass, we needed to talk to the people in Rio Blanco and convince them to negotiate. When people from La Tejera, Rio Blanco arrived on foot to see if we were okay, they were also pressured to negotiate if they wanted us to be able to pass. We denounce this effort to use our delegations to manipulate the Lenca people of La Tejera into giving up their resistance to the dam. We further denounce that the police deployed to the area do not understand the role of international observers nor international journalists, despite us explaining our role multiple times and the police officer examining the TSE credentials. We hope that Honduran authorities will ensure that future international delegations are able to drive on the public road to Rio Blanco and are not subject to harrassment and manipulations by the police.We are also extremely concerned that a bus that travels in and out of Rio Blanco and is one of the only forms of transportation for the Lenca people, most of whom do not have vehicles, to the doctor, store, or other areas, was also prevented from accessing Rio Blanco and the people had to go on foot.
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