Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras

August 8, 2007

Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras

"Our struggle will bear fruit the day that the international community helps us to stamp out the corruption and impunity which exist in Guatemala."
Carlos Albacete Rosales

"The greed of a minority is depriving Guatemalans of the right to preserve the forests and the life which they sustain"
Piedad Espinosa

Carlos Albacete Rosales and Piedad Espinosa Albacete, in the MayanBiosphere Reserve, January 2005.© Private

Carlos Albacete Rosales and Piedad Espinosa Albacete, environmental activists working for the Guatemalan non governmental organization Trópico Verde, were attacked on 10 January 2007 as they were returning home from La Aurora National Airport shortly after midnight. As their taxi approached their home, a car overtook them and partially blocked the road. At least three men got out and began to fire at the taxi. The swift reaction of the taxi driver, who immediately accelerated and drove away, probably saved their lives. The men continued to shoot at the taxi as it drove away, but did not give chase. The attackers were wearing dark-coloured bullet-proof vests and were dressed in clothing similar to that used by the police but without the identifying insignia.

Trópico Verde campaigns on a range of environmental issues. Its main focus is protecting ecologically important forests and wetlands. Over the past four years it has been active in trying to prevent the destruction of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. This nature reserve in the Petén region of northern Guatemala was created in 1990 to help preserve one of the largest tropical rainforests in Central America. This particularly contentious area of Trópico Verde's work has involved them in exposing attempts by cattle ranchers and alleged drug traffickers to take over land inside the Reserve.

The attack on Carlos Albacete and Piedad Espinosa and the lack of progress in identifying those responsible has seriously affected the work of Trópico Verde. Reports suggest that the investigation into the attack has been marked by a series of irregularities, including tampering with ballistic evidence, which have contributed to the failure to bring those responsible to justice.

Both Carlos Albacete and Piedad Espinosa left Guatemala soon after the attack as a result of serious concerns for their safety. They continue to work from abroad to highlight their environmental concerns. Other members of Trópico Verde continue to work inside Guatemala, but the atmosphere of insecurity created by the attack and other threats against them have meant that they have had to reduce the profile of their work.

Donny Reyes, treasurer of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization Rainbow Association (Asociación Arcoiris) in Honduras, was arbitrarily detained on 18 March 2007. He was reportedly stopped by six police officers as he left the Rainbow Association offices in Tegucigalpa with a colleague and asked to show his identity documents. Although he did so, the police asked him to get into the police car and reportedly beat him and physically forced him into the car. They then took him to the Comayagüela police station. The officer who put him in the cell reportedly told the other inmates, "look, I'm bringing you a little princess, you know what to do." Donny Reyes told Amnesty International that the other detainees took this as a signal to beat him and rape him repeatedly.(20) He was released after six and a half hours when he agreed to pay 200 lempiras (approximately US$10). Three days later, he reported what had happened to the Public Prosecutor's Office and to a senior police officer. He also underwent forensic examinations to record the injuries he had suffered. Up to the time of writing, investigations into the arbitrary detention and the subsequent attack against Donny Reyes have not advanced.

The Rainbow Association provides training for human rights defenders on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV/AIDS prevention.