Jesuit has refused police protection because most police are linked to organised crime

Seven months after a colleague in human rights’ work in Honduras was murdered, Fr Ismael Moreno is pragmatic about the possibility that he will meet the same fate.

Fr Moreno, director of the Jesuits’ Radio Progreso in northern Honduras, told the American Catholic News Service that the April murder of the station’s marketing director, Carlos Mejia Orellana, remains unsolved. Mejia was stabbed to death in his home in El Progreso, near the crime-ridden city of San Pedro Sula.

Gunshots heard regularly around the country “we say are normal”, Fr Moreno said. “That’s probably how I’ll die, not from natural causes. I am prepared for that. If something happens, people are prepared to run things. They know where my papers are.”

The murder of Mejia came after another unsolved killing of a Radio Progreso worker three years ago. Nery Jeremias Orellana, a correspondent for the station, was shot dead in 2011.

Fr Moreno said authorities have refused to release any information about the investigation into Mejia’s death, beyond saying that there was an arrest warrant on the books.

“They wouldn’t show it to us or give us a name,” he said. Then, about a month ago, the prosecutor in charge of the case was killed, Fr Moreno said. The prosecutor was also investigating the recent murder of Margarita Murillo, a prominent advocate for peasant landowners.

The priest said that on a day-to-day basis, his relatives and friends in Honduras face more risk of death than he does, because everyone’s life is rife with danger from out-of-control crime.

“Our team has a security protocol,” he said. “We don’t leave town alone and we always tell someone where we are going.”

“But we have a normal life,” he said, in part because of a security guard assigned to him by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Fr Moreno said the Honduran government also offered him the protection of a police officer, which he declined.

“According to studies, seven out of 10 police officers in Honduras are connected to organised crime,” he said. “That would be like putting the enemy at my side.”

Fr Moreno explained that the dangers to journalists and social activists like himself in Honduras come not from being on the political left or the political right.

“The problem is if you transmit news” about what is really happening in his country, he said. “The law of the strong” is what prevails in Honduras, Fr Moreno said. “And I am not one of the strong.”

Fr Moreno was in the United States for a series of events, including appointments with members of Congress, with members of the Jesuit community, and a speech at the 25th annual SOA Watch protest and vigil at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

He said in his meetings in the US he had been striving to help Americans understand why so many Hondurans have fled the country, including more than 18,000 unaccompanied children who were apprehended at the US border in the 2014 fiscal year.

Fr Moreno said it was time to recalibrate the Central American Free Trade Agreement adopted 10 years ago. CAFTA has brought new capital to his country, he said, but only to the tiny percentage of business owners who already controlled most of Honduras’ wealth, he said.

Far too much of the profit generated by the loosened restrictions on trade goes out of the country, Fr Moreno added.

The high rates of violence in Honduras – it has one of the highest murder rates in the world, according to the United Nations – its unemployment rate of more than 50 per cent, the rapid deterioration of living standards and the high rate of immigration to the United States and other countries are all related to the inequities of CAFTA, he said.

He called for a “deep examination of this economic model” as well as investment to strengthen small and medium-sized businesses.