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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)

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.

Graffiti on the wall of a building in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, describes then-President Juan Orlando Hernández as a “murderer.” Hernández’s contested 2017 re-election sparked protests that left dozens of people dead across the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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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South America

Colombia’s first leftist president takes office

Gustavo Petro has pledged to support LGBTQ, intersex rights

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Gustavo Petro took office as Colombia's first leftist president on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Colombian government)

Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Sunday took office as Colombia’s first leftist president.

The former Colombian senator who was once a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that disbanded in the 1990s, in June defeated former Bucaramanga Mayor Rodolfo Hernández in the second round of the country’s presidential election. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, on Sunday took office as Colombia’s first female vice president of African descent.

Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez. (Photo courtesy of Márquez’s Twitter page)

Petro before his inauguration named Néstor Osuna, an openly gay man, as the country’s new justice minister.

“I am honored and thankful to President Gustavo Petro for the appointment as Colombia’s justice minister,” tweeted Osuna on Sunday. “I commit myself to working with your team to achieve the change for which so many of our compatriots yearn.”

Petro in his inaugural speech did not specifically reference LGBTQ and intersex Colombians, but OrgulloLGBT.co, the Washington Blade’s media partner in the country, published pictures that show LGBTQ and intersex people were among those who attended the inauguration.

Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender and sexual orientation identities without barriers for all nonbinary and transgender people in Colombia.” Márquez noted LGBTQ and intersex Colombians after she and Petro won the election.

Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group in northern Colombia, told the Blade after Petro and Márquez won the election that the campaign held “various meetings” with advocacy groups. Castañeda also noted that Petro, among other things, named Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman, to run Bogotá’s social welfare and tourism office when he was mayor.

Castañeda and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among those who attended Sunday’s inauguration that took place in Bogotá’s Bolívar Square.

“Full squares; happy faces; the flags of Colombia, Bogotá; rural, indigenous and LGBTI communities received the president and the vice president in an emotive and historic act that inaugurated the first popular and leftist Colombian government,” tweeted Bogotá Mayor Claudia López on Sunday.

López is married to Angélica Lózano, a bisexual woman who in 2018 became the first LGBTQ and intersex person elected to the Colombian Senate.

Lozano in March won re-election in the country’s national elections. Colombians also elected five openly LGBTQ and intersex people to the country’s House of Representatives.

Tamara Argote in March became the first non-binary person elected to the Colombian Congress.

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Africa

Landmark intersex rights law takes effect in Kenya

Activists praise Children Act 2022

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(Photo courtesy of Rarrarorro via Bigstock)

A new law that took effect late last month in Kenya has granted equal rights and recognition to intersex people 

Intersex people are now recognized as Kenya’s third gender with an ‘I’ gender marker in response to the Children Act 2022. Kenya is the first African country that has granted the intersex community this universal right.

The new law requires intersex children to be treated with dignity and have equal access to basic services like medical treatment and education, in addition to social protection services as a special need. It also requires the accomodation of intersex children in child protection centers and other facilities.

Courts are also required to consider the needs of intersex children who are on trial — including the calling of an expert witness — before they issue any ruling. The law further stipulates that anyone can be a foster parent without restrictions of gender, age or marital status.

It also protects intersex children from so-called sex normalization surgeries, and such procedures will only be done with a doctor’s recommendation. Those who violate the law will face at least three years in jail and a fine of at least $5,000.

“This is a great and major milestone globally for Kenya. We are now way ahead and can teach our neighbors and the whole globe good practices,” said Jedidah Wakonyo, a human rights lawyer and former chair of the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya

The long journey for recognition started dramatically in 2006 when some human rights organizations petitioned courts about a detainee who had been accused of a violent robbery.

Authorities perceived the suspect was a man after police strip-searched him before he entered prison.

This followed numerous court battles by intersex people who demanded the right to recognition as another gender in their birth certificates.

Being denied birth certificates from the discriminatiory law that only recognized male and female genders further limited their access to national identity cards, passports and other crucial documents and government services.      

The Births and Deaths Registration Act under the new law’s Section 7 (3) “shall take measures to ensure correct documentation and registration of intersex children at birth.” 

Intersex people commonly have a combination of male and female gonads (ovaries or testicles) or ambiguous genitalia. 

Wakonyo, who also chaired the Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee and was named the International Court of Justice’s 2020 jurist of the year, describes the law’s enactment as a historic moment because of its comprehensive definition of an intersex person.

It defines an intersex child as “a child with a congenital condition in which the biological sex characteristics cannot be exclusively categorized in the common binary of female or male due to inherent and mixed anatomical, hormonal, gonadal or chromosomal patterns which could be apparent before, at birth, in childhood, puberty or adulthood.”

Kenyan law considers anyone under 17 to be a child.

“Defining an intersex from a child’s perspective while taking care of many aspects and not just the physical notion of being intersex is the best practice because in future they don’t find themselves in the state of gender confusion between males and females like the current situation,” stated Wakonyo. 

This provision essentially protects intersex persons from being deprived of their constitutional rights of gender recognition under the country’s Bill of Rights.

Veronica Mwangi, the deputy director at Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, that helped secure the law’s implementation, said it addresses issues for which the intersex community has been fighting for years.    

“It is very progressive and we are glad about the gains because it provides for the existence of the intersex which all state actors have to accept. Full implementation is what we now need to focus on,” she said.

The law took effect roughly five years after Kenya became the first African nation and the second country in the world after Australia to count intersex people in a Census. The 2019 survey showed 1,524 Kenyans were intersex.

Intersex rights groups had initially petitioned the courts for a total ban of surgeries on intersex children unless they were a medical emergency.

Wakonyo backs the provision for a doctor’s approval on grounds that the surgeries will only be done “in the best interest of the intersex child, informed consent of the parents and the participation of the child depending on the age.” Wakonyo and other activists say the relaxation of the requirements for adopting intersex children not only seeks to end the problem of neglect and abandonment but also the stigma that has left some to die by suicide.

The law safeguards adoptive parents’ rights and parental responsibility and intersex children from child labor, online expuse and other forms of exploitation.

“Intersex children who are just like other children will no longer be killed at birth because of their gender ambiguity,” said Wakonyo.   

Despite the law’s huge benefits for the intersex community, Wakonyo notes it is a “very significant foundation” for the group because gender-specific accommodations in social gatherings and facilities remain needed.

Another historic win for intersex Kenyans this year was the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights’ decision to hire an intersex commissioner.

“Dr. Dennis Wamalwa applied as an intersex (person), interviewed as an intersex (person), and the shortlist comprised male, female, and ‘I’ gender for intersex. He emerged (at the) top and his intersex friends and associates came to witness his swearing,” stated Wakonyo, who also served as a Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights commissioner.

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Canada

Montreal Pride organizers cancel parade

A lack of security personnel prompted last-minute decision

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(Courtesy of 𝐅𝐢𝐞𝐫𝐭é 𝐌𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐫é𝐚𝐥 𝐏𝐫𝐢𝐝𝐞/Facebook)

Citing a lack of adequate security personnel, the organizers of the Fierté Montréal Pride Parade abruptly cancelled Sunday’s parade. The event organizers told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation the decision was made in collaboration with Montréal police.

CBC reported that other Pride events taking place at the Esplanade du Parc olympique from 2 p.m. local time, including the closing show with Pabllo Vittar, will go on as as planned. Tens of thousands of people were expected to attend the parade.

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