In the wake of the disputed election victory of Juan Orlando Hernández last year, angry, frustrated and disillusioned Hondurans took to the streets to protest what they thought to be foul play. At least 16 people were killed by the nation’s security forces in the ensuing pandemonium, marking a new era of political persecution from the US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández.
“They told me that for getting people involved in political parties they were going to fill me with lead,” said Secundina Pineda, 25, one of four sisters living with their 65-year-old father and a toddler inside a tent at a migrant camp in Tijuana, Mexico.
Their story points to the largely overlooked political violence in Honduras that, along with grinding poverty, has helped create a humanitarian crisis at the U.S. doorstep.
Reuters could not verify the Pinedas’ story, which was largely narrated by Secundina. She is the most educated of her family, having studied business administration. A Honduran armed forces spokesman vehemently denied the account or any other political persecution.
But human rights observers in Honduras and immigration lawyers representing migrants from the caravan said they have heard similar stories of security forces entering homes and intimidating opposition political activists.
Military police have conducted arbitrary searches and seizures and broken up opposition demonstrations, the rights observers said, a contention denied by the military.
In a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, death squads have conducted 38 massacres of five or more people in 2018, said Berta Oliva, director of the human rights group Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). She contended that political cases are written off as common crime.
“The Honduran armed forces absolutely do not persecute anybody,” said Captain Jose Domingo Mesa, a military spokesman.
“A lot of people who are trying to get asylum (in the United States) are looking for political justification, a lot of times blaming the armed forces,” Mesa said. “We invite this family that says it has been persecuted to return to the country.”
The president’s office did not answer a Reuters request for comment.
U.S. immigration lawyer Maritza Agundez estimated 20 to 25 percent of her coalition’s clients are Hondurans with credible political asylum cases. She is one of 16 staff attorneys for Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) who are handling dozens of cases from the migrant caravan. The Hondurans who report harassment from official security forces vow never to return home, she said.
“They are 100 percent sure that if they return back home that they will be killed,” Agundez said