Ricardo on LGBTI persecution and Walter Tróchez

This March 2010 interview with Ricardo, a now-exiled longtime gay activist and member of the Honduran resistance from Tegucigalpa, comes to us here dubbed in English and below in the original Spanish thanks to the hard work of Manchester solidarity activists Dominic McCann, Juliette (the interviewer), Steve Sinacola (who is the voice of Ricardo in the dubbed English version), and Jo Haydock (as the voice of Juliette). The English language translation of the interview is posted below the recordings. All the versions posted here are slightly abridged

English dubbed version:

Original Spanish version:

Translated abridged transcript:

So nice to meet you Ricardo!

Pleased to meet you.

Well first could you tell us your age and where you come from?

Well I am 43 years old and I am from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I am part of the LGTB community in Tegucigalpa and I am one of those who started the gay movement in the 90s.

And where do you live right now?

So right now I am effectively without a home because of the events that happened last year with the coup d'etat when the gay movement joined the resistance. Then given the persecution that affected all members of the resistance and all those who were opposed to the coup. Irrespective of our involvement the LGTB movement experienced far greater repression and many individual cases of persecution. The gay community and gay movement in Honduras experienced 19 deaths as a result of the coup d'etat, between June to December a total of 19 homosexuals were assassinated, homosexuals, lesbians and trans; and the repression was such that the our group practically disintegrated. Of those 19, two were members of our organization, they assassinated the secretary and a leading member of the community. The first assassination took place almost immediately on the second day of the coup. The secretary of our organization Walter Trochez who was openly part of the resistance, was assassinated on the 13th of December and because the repression was very severe, as I said the group has practically disintegrated and the leaders such as myself are practically in exile in our own country, for example I am here as refugee because in my city in Tegucigalpa I am followed everywhere I go and they come looking for to me. I am effectively homeless.

And can tell me a little about the fight for rights by the LGTB community in Honduras before and after the coup?

Well, it has been a very hard struggle because the culture here has been very chauvinistic in which we experienced homophobia from the state, under its discriminatory laws also… the LGTB community always has been a discriminated community. The gay movement appeared immediately after the appearance of HIV in Honduras; that was in 1985 when the first case of HIV occurred in Honduras. You have to remember that they were talking in terms of the gay plague, that it was gay cancer that this was God’s punishment for being homosexual; and because of this repression against the community started at that time that is the gay community. The 80s was the period of the disappeared, the cold war in Honduras. Here we experienced a war that was not even ours it was an internal war in neighbouring Nicaragua and El Salvador. I began taking part in the social movements at that time; not in the gay movement because that didn’t exist in 80s. I started out in revolutionary student groups. I experienced the repression of 80s as well; I was one of the few survivors of that repression. In the 80s they tried to bury to me alive. When they in quote un-quote arrested us under the pre-text of being communist, that was the term used by the Armed Forces at that time to repress the people who were opposing them. Soon after that HIV appeared and a new wave of persecution against the gay community began. It was a ‘witch hunt’ against the gay community.

When coup d'etat took place, well, Honduras can be divided into two periods: before and after the coup d'etat. Before the coup d'etat yes there were very strong popular organizations here in this country, but everyone fought their own separate battles, there was no unity of all the sectors. For example the teachers fought for education, the campesinos fought their battle… on problems of land rights and the water, the agrarian reform, the workers each in their own area, the gay community as always working on HIV … I believe that the coup regime had not anticipated that the people at certain moment of the coup would become united with all the sectors around a single issue that was firstly the restitution of President Zelaya, but soon we began to see that it is not simply the Presidency but the constitutional order in the country that was at stake. The government imposed the coup with curfews and with repression. For us it was no longer enough to speak only about HIV, we are a strong community, we have a history of campaigning going back more than twenty years. Hence, we demanded to be included and participate in the resistance against the coup. So that is how we became united with the resistance.

But there was a period during the many curfews, curfews that lasted up to 48hrs, when we were working in citizen participation and politics without stopping our work on HIV/AIDS because we have many friends infected by this disease. Hence through the curfews the population was a victim of the military coup, silent victims. The curfews and state of siege were intended to prevent the population from mobilizing. For example Tegucigalpa is a city with 2 teaching hospitals which not only treats people locally, but also treats people from other parts of the country. So during the curfews people who were receiving retro-viral treatment were unable to travel to Tegucigalpa and receive medication. These are drugs that are required on a daily basis to keep people alive, but this didn’t matter to Micheletti and he imposed the curfews. The people couldn’t get out; I received phone calls from friends saying “Ricardo I haven’t got any medicine for tomorrow, I can’t get to Tegucigalpa; what am I going to do?” I spoke to people close to me and said “have you got surplus medication, there is a comrade who needs medication for tomorrow!” Across mountains we delivered medicine to people who needed it. These are people that I know, friends who have access to a cell phone. But there are people in villages and communities who weren’t able to mobilize. I know of a friend from the Paraiso area, which was an area where repression and the curfews was most intense. This is the area where President Zelaya was trying to enter the country via Nicaragua. So there was an incredible curfew situation. The result was that in December he died through lack of medication. That is when I said to myself that I couldn’t keep quiet any longer and began to participate in resistance marches rather than just working behind the scenes and keeping a low profile.

Friends such as Walter Trochez were so committed and he said “I just can’t keep quiet!” He was one of the people who was always visible in demos and marches. Ever since they initiated the marches in Tegucigalpa, he participated. Walter underwent three attacks, from, almost from the beginning as early as August or September he began to undergo persecution, first they played a game of cat and mouse. Capturing him, releasing him and as soon as he was released they would stop him again. In the second abduction, because they were not really arrests but more like abductions, in the second abduction they broke his nose.

The third time they abducted him he threw himself out of a moving car, but supposedly he was killed in a drive by shooting. Walter was planning to flee the country. It was just one week before he was due to leave. Sadly the police got him first. He was arrested on the 13th of December and I was with him at the last meeting he attended on the 11th.

So on the 13th of December they seize him, and his partner gets a phone call from Walter, and he says “where are you?” Walter tells him that he is in the street, and that he is already on his way home. But the problem is that his partner says that Walter “did not call me from the street, because there was a lot of echo, and in the street there is no echo”. So he was in a cell when he called him. And he began to say don’t worry about me, I am good, a phrase that Walter almost never used. So if he was saying that it indicated something was wrong. Then apparently Walter, because it wasn’t really Walter, called again at 11 at night, and Walter said to his partner "they have killed me, come and get me." So we went to the morgue, we wanted to safeguard his personal possessions, like his cell phone, his documents so not to jeopardize to other members of the gay community.

The forensic (coroners) report from the state merely said “death through gunshot wound”. When the body of Walter was given to us and we were preparing him (for funeral) with a journalist who is also a Spanish doctor, we discovered that Walter had 3 broken ribs and had no tongue.

Hence he was unable to speak, he couldn’t have spoken to anybody because his tongue had been cut out. This is a technique heavily used in Honduras as a punishment and as a message “your going to keep quiet and we will silence the movement”. He wasn’t the first person to have their tongue cut out.

Then, the doctors told us what had happened to Walter, took photos, he had really horrible bruises, here in the face. So they kidnapped Walter, they tortured him, first in a cell and simply took him to a public street in order to kill him.

On the 3rd of January I experienced the first death threat. I was in a park close to my home waiting for the office to open and a guy came up to me. He started to talk about unimportant things, about the neglected state of the park. Then he asked me what I thought about the events of 28th June. Whether I thought it was a coup d’etat or not.

We had decided as a strategy not to talk to strangers about this subject. Two people had already died and others had to flee the country. So I told him: “That it was an unimportant subject for me, that doesn’t interest me. That I am not political and that the government is not important to me.” But he said “But you're Honduran, you must have an opinion on this. All Hondurans have an opinion on this!” I replied that “I am one of those Hondurans who doesn’t have a clear point of view on these events.” He carried on insisting on this theme of the resistance and the coup. I was trying to steer the conversation away from the subject but he kept insisting. As I said I was sitting down and he was 3 or 4m away from me. But as we were talking he kept moving closer. At one point he was right in front of me. Anyway I could see from his posture, the way he was acting that he was in the military. From his way of talking he was a solider.

At one point I said is “this not a conversation; this is an interrogation"

Because in the end as he was right in front of me, nobody could see me, he asked me directly “are you part of the resistance or not?” and I said “No I am not part of the resistance!"

I work and for me that’s all; work and nothing else.” At that point I stood up and I was scared because the park was empty. I was scared because this wasn’t a civilian but a member of the military.

I got up, and he grabbed my arm really hard causing bruising. Leave me alone, because I am on my way.

He said “how long have you been living in ‘El Chile’?” I had never told him where I was living. He said “We know everything about you!”

But thanks to 2 women who came into the park. The park is a location historically known as a meeting place for the gay community. Lots of gay men would go looking for other men in the park. The 2 women came into the park. He had hold of my arm. The women must have thought we were ‘lovers’. I took advantage of the situation and kissed him on the cheek so they would look at us. He shoved me away and I was able to get away, running. But he began phoning somebody and all I could think about was Walter.. “I’ll end up in the same place as him”.

I went to a little market in a square with lots of places and I spent about an hour there hiding. I was about half a block from my office. So when I figured that he wasn’t following me any more and that I wouldn’t be seen I went to the office and knocked on the door. The door was locked but eventually Jose Sembrano, the coordinator, came and he let me into the office. I fell apart, I started to cry….

A foreign journalist who is working with Tele-Sur arrived and I did an interview with him. That was the 9th no the 10th of February and on the 11th of February I experienced the second assassination threat. They were, the coup supporters were monitoring the opposition media outlets and television stations.

So I recorded an interview on the 10th and on the 11th I experienced the second death threat.

For reasons of security I wasn’t going to the park where I experienced the 1st attack, obviously. And I was a block away in a square called Plaza de los Dolores in Tegucigalpa that is 4 buildings away from my office. So it is overlooked by my office. It is a public square, open. I didn’t think that they would do anything there. Cars can’t get through the square they pass underneath, it was a very strategic place to be in. The square was full of people.

2 policemen came from about 4 blocks away and they came straight towards me; and asked me for my ID that they were doing an operation. But the strange thing is if they were doing a regular operation they would ask everybody for their papers and instead they came straight to where I was sitting.

My mistake was handing over my ID.

They took my ID card, but they didn’t check my name or even look at it properly, and they didn’t check anything over the radio. They simply said “you have a problem with your ID”… “you have to come with us!” I said “what is the problem?”

If you are going to arrest me…They said “No it’s not an arrest you just have to come with us! to sort out the problems with your ID card”

I said I have never had any problems with my ID, I even went to the bank and took money out, no problems. “No just come with us” they said.

I said “I am allowed to make a phone call I want to call my boss.”

“Where do you work?” they asked.

I lied that I work for COFADEH - a human rights organisation. COFADEH is an organisation with a lot of authority here. It has a lot of strength.

“I know my rights” I said “I know I don’t have to move from here unless you arrest me!” At that moment 3 friends of mine…who know about my situation came over and sat down next to me. “what’s going on?” they asked. I said “they are gong to arrest me!” Then they handed my ID back to me and said “no there isn’t a problem”. But as they were leaving one of the cops turned to me and said “Remember Walter, that’s twice now…”

I went to COFADEH to give my testimony concerning these threats, my second testimony. Soon after that they assassinated a compañero from San Pedro Sula, the assassinations were happening all over the country, but we continued with our work despite this.

So as I said we tried to keep going with our lives. 2 no 3 friends of mine took on the responsibility of.. in the morning they came to fetch me at home, they came with me to work, I never walked alone, in the afternoon they would call me on my cell phone and say “what time are you leaving work”... “at such a time” .. “we’ll come and meet you”. They really looked after me.

But on the 14th, no the 15th of February I was at home getting ready to have a bath. So I got a call at 6am and one of these friends said to me “Ricardo where are you?” “At home. I’m coming down now” I reply. So they say “Don’t go out…No because the grey van is…”

In Tegucigalpa it is well known that the Police (CID) uses a grey van with blacked out windows and no number plates to carry out abductions. He said to me “the van is in front of your house! Don’t go out, hide! I’ll keep you informed” But I said to myself “if they are in front of my house its better to be killed in the street than at home, because at home there are children, there’s my mum.”

Then they call back and say “Don’t go out …2 men have got out of the truck and are coming towards to the house.” There is a neighbour who has door which opens onto the street behind ours and my friend said I should get out that way.

So.. but if they come to my house they are going to attack my family.

Then 2 more friends arrived and they began to play football in the street, kids joined in and the street filled up with people …in other words now there were plenty of witnesses.

But because of all the friends or people in the street they backed-off. The two men got back into the van and my friend said that he could see that there were 4 of them in total, with the 2 in the front wearing balaclavas.

My friends said “you’d better not go to work today!” But I went to work anyway and later I gave my testimony to COFADEH. They said that I couldn’t stay in Tegucigalpa “they know where you live, you can’t stay there”.

So since the 15th of February I have been on the run and I am in the process of trying to flee the country.

Obviously I couldn’t go back to Tegucigalpa. My cell phone has been tapped.

My friends who looked after me have told me that the same van came for them and that they were arrested. They were questioned about my location.

And COFADEH has been moving me around for security reasons from one place to another. This is really unsettling cos I am unable to stay in one place for any length of time, for security. I am always moving around. This is what is happening here in Honduras.