MEDICC action items re: attack on Dr. Luther Castillo's Garifuna hospital

Honduran Soldiers Raid Indigenous Garifuna Hospital

October 8, 2009 -- Garifuna communities in Honduras are protesting an October 6th Honduran military police invasion of the only indigenous-directed hospital in the country, located in remote Ciriboya. According to eyewitnesses, 15 armed military police broke into the hospital in the early morning hours, later claiming they were searching for illegal drugs. No one was injured in the raid, which was timed during a hospital shift change.

The hospital, staffed by Garifuna doctors recently graduated from Cuba's Latin American Medical School (ELAM), along with Cuban doctors, has treated over 300,000 cases since its inauguration in December 2007. "We are not just providing health care to a forgotten people," said Dr. Luther Castillo, an ELAM graduate who has led the project and community construction of its building. "We are creating a new model of free health care, an example for other poor regions in Latin America."

A statement by the Garifuna organization OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña) called the military action "a clear message to the Garifuna people (in response to) their participation in the resistance movement against the coup, and particularly to Dr. Castillo and hospital personnel. For OFRANEH, such a punitive action against the hospital is one more indication of the prevailing racism among the coup leaders and their military".

Constitutional President Manuel Zelaya officially opened the hospital, which serves many of the poorest coastal communities in Honduras, and his government signed an agreement affirming the right of the indigenous Garifuna to direct and administer their own health care in the region. Since the June military coup, the defacto government has canceled the accord, eliminated physician stipends, and has attempted to downgrade the hospital to health center status.

However, the hospital has kept its doors open, thanks to local communities' support and health workers who have stayed on the job. In addition to patient services--such as birthing, surgeries, hospitalization, dental care and laboratory tests--hospital physicians have established courses for nurses' aides and midwives, staffed eleven satellite clinics, and organized home visits and health promotion activities throughout the area. "Since they haven't been able to shut us down," charged Dr. Castillo, "those who plotted the coup are now trying to use the military to intimidate our health professionals."

The hospital and its community health outreach are supported by a number of U.S. and other international organizations, including the Sacramento, California Central Labor Council, Global Links, The Birthing Project, and MEDICC. Several US medical schools also have cooperative arrangements with the Garifuna hospital, including Johns Hopkins, Emory, Charles Drew and University of California (SF). Eight Cuban physicians and nurses also provide specialized services and academic training at the hospital.

Dr. Castillo is currently in the United States, where he is part of an effort to rally support for the hospital and the unconditional return to office of President Zelaya, and to lobby the US Congress to demand the return of basic constitutional and human rights in Honduras. "The people who suffer the most consequences in this situation are the poor," he said before returning to Honduras. "We must stop further attacks on our hospital."

Background

Since 1999, Luther Castillo has directed the Luaga Hatuadi Waduheñu Foundation ("For the Health of our People" in Garifuna), dedicated to bringing vital health services to isolated indigenous coastal communities. After his 2005 graduation from the Latin American Medical School in Havana, Dr. Castillo returned to the Honduran coast, where he led construction of Honduras' first Garifuna Rural Hospital, now serving some 30,000 in the surrounding communities.

The hospital opened in December 2007, just months after Dr. Castillo was named "Honduran Doctor of the Year" by Rotary International's Tegucigalpa chapter. "Thank you for inspiring me," said California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, speaking at the hospital's opening ceremony.

A few weeks before the coup, Dr. Castillo was named director of International Cooperation in the Honduran Foreign Ministry. Since July 3rd, he has been been active in national protests against the coup and included on a list of persons whose lives and safety were declared "at risk" by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Dr. Castillo is featured in ¡Salud! (www.saludthefilm.net), a documentary film that received the Council on Foundations Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film & Digital Media (USA).

What you can do:
1) Circulate this release to listservs, blogs, press and human rights organizations.
2) Sign--and ask your organization or institution to sign--the following letter to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. To sign, just reply to this alert or send an email to admin1@mediccglobal.org indicating your name, your title and the name of the organization you represent. Please reply by Thursday, October 15 in order to be included.

October, 2009
Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza
Organization of American States
1889 F Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C., 20006
U.S.A.

Dear Secretary General Insulza:

It has come to our attention that on the morning of October 6, 2009, armed military invaded the premises of the indigenous Garifuna Hospital in Ciriboya, Iriona Department, Honduras, on the pretext of a search for illegal drugs. They found none.

We join with local Garifuna communities in demanding an end to such intimidation of health workers and patients, and call upon you to redouble your efforts to guarantee the human, political and civil rights of all Hondurans, in particular of the Garifuna people. The right of indigenous peoples to establish their own health care services is enshrined in an International Labor Organization covenant subscribed to by the government of Honduras. The raid on their hospital constitutes a violation of their rights as human beings, Honduran citizens and indigenous people.

We urge you to take whatever measures necessary to protect the lives of hospital staff and community members in the Garifuna regions of Honduras, as you seek to uphold the rights of all Hondurans put at risk by the military coup and defacto government.

Sincerely,
Peter Bourne, MD, MA, Chair
Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC)

Kathleen Hower, Executive Director and Co-Founder
Global Links

Dabney Evans, MPH, CHES, Founder and Director
Institute of Human Rights, Emory University

Dan Kovalik, Senior Associate General Counsel
United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO (USW)

Bill Camp, Executive Secretary
Sacramento Central Labor Council

MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba), www.medicc.org, is a US non-governmental organization working to enhance cooperation among the U.S., Cuban and global health communities aimed at better health outcomes.