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A dispatch from Honduras

U.S. seeking former president’s extradition on drug charges

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Feb. 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — I was once again on assignment for the Washington Blade in Honduras from Feb. 6-11. I interviewed Víctor Grajeda, the first openly gay man elected to the Honduran Congress, and met Indyra Mendoza, founder of Cattrachas, a lesbian human rights group, at her office in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital and largest city. I visited Dunia Orellana and Amílcar Cárcamo of Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras. I also had more than my share of “granitas de café,” or “iced coffees,” while in the country.

Honduras is one of the most violent and corrupt countries in the Americas.

The situation on the ground last July when I was on assignment in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, and in the cities of Tela and La Ceiba on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, was tense.

The trip took place against the backdrop of growing concerns over what would happen if the results of the presidential election that was scheduled to take place less than five months later were disputed. A pandemic-related curfew that was in place also added to this sense of uneasiness.

The situation on the ground on this most recent trip to Honduras felt slightly different.

President Xiomara Castro, a member of the leftist Free Party whose husband, former President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office in a 2009 coup, took office on Jan. 27.

Castro defeated Nasry Asfura, a member of now former President Juan Orlando Hernández’s National Party who is Tegucigalpa’s former mayor, in the presidential election’s first round that took place last Nov. 28. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among the foreign dignitaries who attended Castro’s inauguration that took place at Honduras’ national stadium in Tegucigalpa. Grajeda and our Reportar sin Miedo colleagues were also on hand to witness the moment when Honduras’ first female president took office.

“I was there for this historic moment,” said Erick Martínez, a long-time activist who ran for Congress in 2017, during an interview in San Pedro Sula on Feb. 8. “I was crying in this full stadium; crying with pride; with joy; with sadness for the people who were not there.”

Martínez specifically mentioned Walter Tróchez and Erick Martínez Ávila, two Honduran LGBTQ activists who were murdered in December 2009 and May 2012 respectively. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a landmark ruling it issued last June said the Honduran state was responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a transgender activist who was killed in San Pedro Sula hours after the 2009 coup.

Vicky Hernández (Photo courtesy of Cattrachas)

Juan Orlando Hernández was president of Congress from January 2010 to June 2013. He became the country’s head of state in 2014.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Hernández the winner of the 2017 presidential election, despite widespread irregularities and criticism that his decision to run for a second term violated the Honduran constitution. The disputed election results sparked widespread protests across the country that left dozens of people dead.

Juan Orlando Hernández did not attend Castro’s inauguration.

I was driving to interview Grajeda in San Pedro Sula when I read a press release from Secretary of State Antony Blinken that announced the U.S. had sanctioned Juan Orlando Hernández for corruption. 

Honduran authorities on Feb. 15 arrested Juan Orlando Hernández at his Tegucigalpa home after the U.S. asked for his extradition on drug and weapons charges. Federal prosecutors allege Juan Orlando Hernández used drug trafficking to fund his political campaigns.

Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother, former Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, is serving a life sentence in the U.S. after a federal jury convicted him of trafficking tons of cocaine into the country. I was driving from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa on Feb. 8 when I heard on the radio that a federal judge in New York had sentenced Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, a drug trafficker who allegedly bribed Juan Orlando Hernández and other Honduran government officials, to life in prison.

Honduras was certainly a “narco state” when Juan Orlando Hernández was president.

Castro, for her part, has publicly supported marriage equality and backs legal recognition of trans Hondurans and what Grajeda described as “safe spaces” for LGBTQ people. 

Six gay men and a trans man have been reported killed in Honduras since Castro took office. Police continue to face criticism over the investigation into the Jan. 11 murder of Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist who was shot in front of her Tegucigalpa home. Jerlín, a trans man who I interviewed last July in La Ceiba, fled the country weeks before Castro took office and plans to ask for asylum in the U.S. 

None of the sources with whom I spoke in Honduras are naive to the many challenges that Castro and her government face. They are also waiting to see whether the new government in Tegucigalpa will have a tangible impact on the lives of LGBTQ Hondurans who continue to face rampant violence and discrimination. 

We shall see.   

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Central America

Honduras government admits responsibility for Trans woman’s murder

Vicky Hernández killed in San Pedro Sula shortly after 2009 coup

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Vicky Hernández (Photo courtesy of Cattrachas)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The government of Honduras on Monday publicly acknowledged it is responsible for the 2009 murder of a Transgender activist.

Vicky Hernández was a Trans activist and sex worker with HIV who worked with Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an advocacy group that is based in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city.

Hernández’s body was found in a San Pedro Sula street on June 29, 2009, hours after the coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. Hernández and two other Trans women the night before ran away from police officers who tried to arrest them because they were violating a curfew.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last June issued a landmark ruling that found Honduras responsible for Hernández’s murder. The admission was part of the settlement.

Solicitor General Manuel Antonio Díaz Galeas and Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina García were among those who attended Monday’s ceremony that took place in front of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa’s offices. President Xiomara Castro, who took office in January, participated virtually.

Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which represented Hernández’s family alongside Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group that is based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, also attended alongside Hernández’s mother, Rosa Hernández.

“We should love our children for who they are because they come from the womb,” said Rosa Hernández. “No one has a right to take a life.”

Kennedy noted the Honduran government “has taken the first steps by publicly acknowledging and taking responsibility and apologizing for murdering Vicky.”

Violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains pervasive in Honduras.

Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent Trans activist, was killed outside her Tegucigalpa home on Jan. 11. Cattrachas notes she and Hernández are two of the more than 400 LGBTQ+ people who have been killed in the Central American country since 2009.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Honduras to pay reparations to Hernández’s family and enact laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from violence and discrimination. Kennedy in her statement noted Castro has pledged “to making these necessary reforms.”

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Central America

LGBTQ+ activist in El Salvador receives death threats

Erick Iván Ortiz lost Legislative Assembly race in 2021

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Erick Iván Ortiz (Photo courtesy of Erick Iván Ortiz)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — An LGBTQ+ rights activist in El Salvador who once ran for a seat in the country’s Legislative Assembly has received death threats.

Erick Iván Ortiz — a member of the Nuestro Partido party who is the director of communications for the Salvadoran Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons — spoke about the threats during an April 20 press conference.

Ortiz said he received two phone calls on April 13.

The person who Ortiz said threatened him asked in the second phone call where “should we leave the body” and whether “we should bury it or dump it in the river.” The Salvadoran Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons and the Nuestro Partido’s leadership have both condemned the threats.

Ortiz would have been the first openly gay person elected to the Legislative Assembly if he had won his race last year. Ortiz in January joined the Global Equality Caucus, a network of elected officials around the world who fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Blade on Monday published a Spanish version of this article.

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Central America

Guatemala lawmakers scrap same-sex marriage ban bill

Country’s president said measure violated international treaties

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Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

GUATEMALA CITY — Lawmakers in Guatemala on Tuesday tabled a bill that would have formally banned marriage for same-sex couples and defined a family as a man and a woman who are raising children together.

Agencia Presentes, a website that covers LGBTQ+-specific news throughout Latin America, noted members of the Guatemalan Congress voted 119-19 to table the “Law for the Protection of Life and the Family” bill. Agencia Presentes, which also reported 26 lawmakers abstained from the vote, posted a video that shows LGBTQ+ activists celebrating outside the Guatemalan Congress.

Lawmakers in the Central American country on March 8 approved the bill under which a woman who has an abortion would have faced up to 10 years in prison.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2018 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights in the Western Hemisphere. Guatemala is among the countries in which the decision is legally binding.

President Alejandro Giammattei sent the bill back to Congress for further review because he said it would have violated international treaties.

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