NEW YORK — A Honduran LGBT rights advocate told the Washington Blade that the top priority for members of his organization is to stay alive.
“We are fighting to stay alive; not to be killed,” said Nelson Arambú of the Diversity Movement in Resistance during a June 27 interview at a Manhattan coffee shop.
Arambú, who lives in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, co-founded the Violet Collective Association in 1999 and the Kukulcán Association in 2002.
Arambú currently conducts research on health and violence in Honduras for Doctors Without Borders. He studied rates of sexually transmitted diseases among female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people with HIV for a Guatemalan university from 2005 to 2013.
Arambú, 29, met with LGBT rights advocates in New York after he arrived in the city on June 26. He traveled to Chicago before meeting with officials at the State Department, members of the Congressional Equality Caucus and staffers with the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights First in D.C.
Arambú is scheduled to return to Honduras on Wednesday.
Life ‘quite hard’ for all Hondurans
Arambú told the Blade that anti-LGBT violence in the impoverished Central American country has skyrocketed since a coup toppled then-President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009.
He said statistics between 1994 and 2009 indicate only 20 LGBT Hondurans were reported murdered between 1994 and 2009.
Arambú told the Blade that 176 LGBT Hondurans have been reported killed between the 2009 coup and May. These include Walter Tróchez, a prominent LGBT rights advocate who was shot to death on a Tegucigalpa street in December 2009, and Erick Martínez, a journalist and activist who was strangled to death in 2012 after leaving a gay bar in the Honduran capital.
Arambú told the Blade police officers in Tegucigalpa killed 10 trans people in the three months after the 2009 coup. An Amnesty International report indicates a group of armed men wearing bulletproof vests and balaclavas kidnapped a trans sex worker in the city of San Pedro Sula and killed her before placing her body into a plastic bag and dumping it alongside a road.
The group has reported at least three Honduran LGBT rights advocates have received death threats or have been threatened at gunpoint since 2011.
Arambú told the Blade that unknown men broke into his Tegucigalpa home three times last December.
“These are very difficult things,” he said. “They are very ugly things.”
A report from the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crimes indicates Honduras in 2012 had the world’s highest murder rate.
Arambú told the Blade that 25,000 Hondurans have been killed in the country with a population of slightly more than eight million people since the 2009 coup.
“This means that life is quite difficult, quite hard for the entire Honduran population, not just gays, not just trans people,” said Arambú.
Arambú told the Blade there is a “mix of things” that caused this increase in violence.
He said ministries that had served children, women, indigenous people and Hondurans of African descent have been “systematically dismantled” since the coup. Arambú noted that Roberto Herrera, director of the Human Rights Commission of Honduras who was appointed in March in spite of concerns from Honduran human rights advocates, is a former military advisor.
“What has happened is human rights lost institutionalism, lost this presence within the structures of the government,” he said. “The reality is the topic of human rights has been weakened within the state.”
Another factor behind the violence is what Arambú described as the “loss of control” he said the Honduran government once had in the fight against organized crime and gangs that traffic drugs, weapons and people. Arambú said these groups “have been left to take advantage” of poor Hondurans who lack education and live in “precarious conditions.”
Hondurans ‘afraid to be there’
Arambú spoke to the Blade as an influx of undocumented children from Honduras and other Central American countries continues to cross from Mexico into the U.S.
The Associated Press last week reported that U.S. authorities have detained more than 52,000 children who have entered the country illegally without their parents or other family members since last October. The White House has launched a $1 million media campaign in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that is designed to warn potential immigrants against traveling to the U.S. without the necessary documents.
“You have this situation of the population that is leaving the country,” said Arambú. “You have adults and children in this situation. And I think it is very important that the world recognizes that the condition of these people is not of an immigrant.”
He further discussed the plight of Central Americans who seek to immigrate to the U.S.
“It is not the same as if I migrated because I would like to go to improve my standard of living, to work or whatever,” said Arambú. “Here I am afraid of losing my life. What happens here in Honduras is that people are leaving the country because they are afraid to be there.”
Honduran lawmakers in February 2013 approved a bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.
Suspects in Martínez’s death are in prison for stealing cars — and not for their alleged involvement in the gay journalist’s death.
Arambú told the Blade that two witnesses that received police protection in the case of the trans women killed in Tegucigalpa in 2009 were harassed by law enforcement and eventually murdered after someone leaked their identities. He said other witnesses to anti-LGBT crimes have fled the country because they “no longer feel safe.”
Arambú also described U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske’s May statements that included praise of the government’s efforts to investigate the high number of murders of what one newspaper described as “the most vulnerable members of society” in Bajo Aguán, an agricultural area near the country’s Caribbean coastline, as “an insult” because the country’s human rights situation remains bad.
“I would hope that the U.S. government would have a more clear position that is not so ambiguous toward the situation in Honduras, of the situation with the government,” he said.
In spite of all the challenges that he and other Honduran LGBT rights advocates continue to face, Arambú said he and his colleagues will continue their work.
“We are going to keep going to speak out, to regain ground on human rights not only for gays, but for the entire Honduran population,” he said. “We are going to keep pressuring and speaking out against the Honduran government because the Honduran government is an autocratic government. It is not a democratic government. We are going to keep seeking solidarity from other countries and international organizations.”