Canada, the CANSEC weapons show in Ottawa and the arming of repression against the LGBTQI+ community in Honduras

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: A truck donated to/purchased by the Honduran Ministry of Health from Canada is used to transport soldiers in June 2019.

What is the relationship between Canada, the CANSEC weapons show in Ottawa and the arming of state repression against the LGBTQI+ community in Honduras? The lack of transparency and public information makes it hard to precisely answer this question, but we can piece together enough to paint a troubling picture.

The murder of Vicky Hernández

On June 29, 2021, The Guardian reported: “In a landmark ruling [by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights] for transgender rights, the Honduras government has been found responsible for the 2009 murder of the trans woman and activist Vicky Hernández.”

Photo: Vicky Hernández.

The article in The Guardian continues: “Hernández was killed on the first night of the June 2009 coup d’état, in which the Honduran military ousted President Manuel Zelaya and enforced night-time curfews across the country. The curfews were brought in to contain demonstrations against the coup, but were part of wider crackdown in which journalists, teachers, students and LGBTQ+ people were targeted.”

And it notes: “Lawyers working on Hernández’s case argued that state agents actually committed the murder.” Lawyer Angelita Baeyens says: “She was murdered during a curfew, on the first night of the coup d’etat, when only security forces were on the streets.”

Canada trains the Honduran army

As noted above, Hernández was murdered on June 28, 2009, the first night of the coup. On July 30, 2009, about a month after the coup, The Globe and Mail reported: “Canada is still providing training to members of the Honduran army.”

Canadian financing of surveillance

By February 17, 2015, Sandra Cuffe reported in Ricochet: “Militarization, impunity, and human rights abuses have dominated Honduras since the coup. Joining the regular national police force on the streets are soldiers, military police, and new militarized elite special police forces with U.S. and Colombian training. Canadian aid to security forces and investigative units has picked up, but some of it has produced more concerns than results.”

She adds: “Since 2011, Canada has provided the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) with $5 million in surveillance and criminal investigation equipment and training to investigate homicides and violent crimes, wrote Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development spokesperson John Babcock in an email to Ricochet.”

Significantly, Cuffe further notes in the article: “Given the alarming frequency of threats and attacks against human rights activists, farmworker movement participants, Indigenous leaders, journalists and others in Honduras, training in surveillance raises concerns. Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared [COFADEH] in Honduras takes it for granted that human rights activists and social movement organizations are under heavy surveillance.”

Photo: Bertha Oliva, COFADEH.

“Biggest problem is state security forces”: Arcoíris (Rainbow) Association

The Arcoíris LGTB Association of Honduras was founded six years prior to the coup with the aim of empowering the LGTBI community in Honduras.

Coordinator Donny Reyes has stated: “The biggest problem that we face is the violence of the state security forces towards the LGBT+ community: the armed forces, the police, the criminal investigation police, military police, municipal police.”

Photo: Donny Reyes, Arcoiris.

Reyes adds: “The research studies that Arcoiris and other organizations have done reflect the same pattern — more than 60 per cent of hate crimes have been committed against us by those forces who should be guaranteeing our safety.”

Canadian arms sales to Honduras

Canada does not appear to export a large amount of “military goods” to Honduras. The official reports produced by Global Affairs Canada dating back to 2007 only show a sale of $4,548.00 of category 2-11 in 2016. This refers to “electronic equipment, military spacecraft and components not controlled elsewhere”, but the report does not further specify what that “electronic equipment” might have been.

We do not know if Canada still provides training to the Honduran army (as the Globe and Mail reported in July 2009) or if there is continued funding similar to the Canada Initiative for Security in Central America (that Ricochet reported on in February 2015).

We do know that Canada exports approximately $1 billion in “military goods” to the United States each year. And we know that the United States has provided well over $114 million in security assistance to Honduras between 2008 and 2014. In 2017, Global Witness documented that at least $18 million in U.S. aid was sent to Honduran police and military “in spite of their abuse against activists.” Given export permits are not required for most arms sales from Canada to the United States, it is unknown what Canadian-produced “military goods” could be going to Honduras in this way.

The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act

The Berta Cáceres Act, first introduced in 2016, states: “The Honduran police are widely established to be deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention, and murder, with impunity.”

Video still from La Lucha Sigue.

It then calls on the United States to suspend all “security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.”

There does not appear to be similar legislation in Canada to ensure that Canadian-produced “military goods” are not sold directly or indirectly to Honduras.

The CANSEC arms show in Ottawa

The CANSEC arms show in Ottawa boasts that it attracts “280+ defence and security exhibitors” and “50+ International delegations”. It further highlights that “74% of attendees have purchasing power”.

Research would be needed to know how many of the 280+ exhibitors at CANSEC sell “military goods” to Honduras. CANSEC does not make publicly available the list of countries at CANSEC, so we do not know if Honduras sends military officials to the arms show.

Photo: Protest against the CANSEC arms show.

We will continue to follow this, work to overcome the lack of transparency and information available to the public and support the mobilization against the CANSEC arms show in Ottawa in May-June (specific date to be confirmed) next year.

Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres: “We have an army in a country where there’s no armed conflict with any other country. The only conflict in Honduras is a conflict of interests of the richest people with the most historically impoverished people.”

Peace Brigades International accompanies Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres and the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras (COPINH), Donny Reyes and the Arcoíris LGTB Association of Honduras, and has provided periodic accompaniment to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (COFADEH).

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