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Another scandal exposing police corruption and involvement of Honduran police commanders in assassinations and organized crime hit the press again in March 2016. Shortly after, on April 7, the Honduran Congress approved a decree legislating the purging of the National Police, declaring a clean up of the police a “national priority.” The decree called for the creation of a Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police. It is not the first time a scandal incited the approval of legislation to cleanup corrupt security forces. In January 2014, the Commission for Public Security Reform was also created, and today is widely admitted to have been a huge failure, even by those that applauded its effort. Some are not surprised that it never achieved what it was created to do. So the Honduran government is at it again. Days after the 2016 decree was approved, a three-member Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police was formed. I thought it was worth taking a look at the organizational associations and backgrounds of the three appointed Commissioners – Omar Rivera, Alberto Solórzano, and Vilma Morales. From left to right: Ministry of Security, Julian Pacheco, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, ASJ’s Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Photo credit: el heraldo Omar Rivera, Advocacy Director, Association for a More Just Society (ASJ); Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ) Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) is a Honduran and U.S. faith-based organization that receives significant U.S. support from USAID to run Centros de Alcance that focus on “anti-gang and violence prevention” programs promoting extensively to address youth migration to the U.S; the Legal Advisory and Anti-Corruption Centers (ALAC); and a grant for an education program given under the Impulsing Citizen Participation, Transparency and Social Opportunities (Impactos), amongst others. ASJ receives support from the evangelical Christian Reformed Church in North America. ASJ coordinates an initiative known as the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a broad group of “civil society organizations” that tends to dominate any spaces where “civil society” is consulted about important national issues including security, impunity, and corruption. Allies of APJ include the Civil Society Group, Transformemos Honduras, MOPAWI, and the Cofraternidad Evangelica de Honduras, amongst others. APJ is funded by the National Democratic Institute (who funds almost exclusively the same organizations allied with APJ) and the US Department of State, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, created to “improve the effectiveness and coherence of the U.S. government in conflict situations.” Its almost impossible to research one of ASJ’s programs without connecting it to U.S. funding and programs that promote U.S. policy and cosmetic solutions to major structural problems like corruption and impunity. Many in the Honduran social movement see ASJ and the U.S. Embassy as one in the same. Pastor Alberto Solórzano . President, Confraternidad Evangelical (CE), board member, Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ) As mentioned previously, the Confraternidad Evangelica is one of the members of the ASJ-coordinated initiative APJ. It claims to represent 90% of all evangelical organizations in Honduras. A well-known pastor of the “Abundant Life” church and representative of the Confraternidad Evangelica, Evelio Reyes recently led public prayers in the Presidential Palace with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the First Lady Ana de Hernandez, and attendees of many evangelical churches and organizations. Evelio Reyes, a close relative of the Minister of Defense, Samuel Reyes, and friend of President Hernandez, was the subject of a 2013 law suit filed by well-respected LBGTI Honduran activist, Erick Martinez. The pastor made discriminatory and degrading insults against the LBGTI community to his congregation telling them not to “vote for homosexuals or lesbians who corrupt the model of God.” In Reyes defense, the Confraternidad Evangelica wrote a public letter, signed by Pastor Alberto Solórzano, one of the members of the Police Purging Commission, expressing their disagreement with the investigation against Pastor Reyes and justifying the homophobic statements as “moved by the interest to present a salvation plan for humanity in order to seek the preservation of the society.” These verbal attacks and hate speech against the LGBTI community are alarming considering the violence and assassinations reported by Honduran organizations. In the last seven years, 215 LBGTI people have been murdered in Honduras, 37 of which occurred in 2015 alone. Upon nomination to the Police Purging Commission, individuals questioned the
Randy Jorgensen, the Canadian “Porn King”, To Appear in Honduran Courts for Illegal Possession of Garifuna Lands for Tourist Projects
Friday, October 23, 2015
Randy Jorgensen will appear in Honduran courts under charges of usurpation, related to the illegal possession of Afro-indigenous, Garifuna lands in Trujillo, Honduras. Jorgensen, also known as the Canadian Porn King, is a major investor in various tourist projects in the Trujillo Bay area along Honduras’ northern Caribbean coast, including the ‘Banana Coast’ cruise ship terminal, and various gated-community projects. Charges against Jorgensen involve the illegal purchase and on-going use of land within a community land title belonging to the Garifuna communities of Cristales and Rio Negro, located in Trujillo Bay.
Photo caption: The Banana Coast cruise ship terminal, in the Rio Negro neighborhood in Trujillo. Local residents no longer have free access to the beach.
The legal hearing will take place on November 13 and the charges come after years of investigation of the illegal land sales. In June of this year, an arrest warrant for Jorgensen was issued by the Honduran Attorney General’s office. The majority of the alleged “land sales” in Rio Negro were made under threat of expropriation and repression, given the tense political environment following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras.
The Garifuna are an Afro-indigenous people that have lived for over 200 years along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, on lands now threatened by the foreign and national tourism industry. In the Trujillo region, Garifuna communities are also being evicted from their ancestral lands amid the possible construction of an Economic Development and Employment Zone (ZEDE) or Model City. Jorgensen’s investments are seen as the seed of a future ZEDE or parts of what could grow into a free trade, special development zone in the region.
Slow Tourism-Related Ethnocide
The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym) has been publicly condemning tourism-related repression and illegal land sales for years. In December 2011, Rio Negro and Cristales, accompanied by OFRANEH, “filed a lawsuit demanding absolute nullity of several fraudulent land sales made in favor of Randy Roy Jorgensen. … Jorgensen, in the midst of the Honduran political tragedy in 2009, managed to suddenly obtain environmental licenses to build in an area declared a buffer zone of the Capiro and Calentura National Park.” Regarding the recent charges, OFRANEH released a statement that can be found here.
Photo caption: The ruins of a house in Rio Negro, with one of the last houses standing in the backdrop at the location where the Banana Coast cruise ship terminal is now located. Picture taken in 2011.
The piece of land that Jorgensen is illegally occupying consists of over 76 manzanas [approximately 132 acres] within the Rio Negro land title dating back to 1901. Upon obtaining the land, Jorgensen has since built the ‘Banana Coast’ cruise ship terminal that received over 50 international cruise ships last season. The Garifuna community of Rio Negro has largely been ‘disappeared’ by the project and the few houses remaining are regularly affected by severe flooding caused by the design and construction of the cruise ship terminal adjacent to their houses. Residents of Rio Negro and surrounding Garifuna communities have also lost access to the beach, a lifeline for the Garifuna that rely on fishing for local consumption.
Tourism, Dispossession and Repression
In her excellent article about Canadian tourism interests in Trujillo, journalist Dawn Paley reports that Jorgensen was nicknamed the ‘Canadian Porn King’ in a 1993 publication of MacLean’s magazine in Canada. The nickname is a play on how Jorgensen earned his fortune by distributing and selling pornographic films in ‘Adults Only Video’ (AOV) stores across Canada and online. Upon moving to Honduras in 2007, the Porn King has since become the major promoter and investor of a Cancun-style tourism economy in Trujillo Bay. Besides Banana Coast, Jorgensen owns another company, Life Vision Developments that is selling small lots of land to North Americans through various real estate firms based in Canada, and a money-making scheme known as Fast Track Group based in Alberta, Canada. These lots – many of which were illegally purchased by Life Vision Developments and are inside Garifuna land titles – are located within gated-communities Campa Vista, Coroz Alta, Alta Vista, and New Palm Beach.
Photo caption: The entrance of NJOI Trujillo.
Other North American projects have since begun construction and land sales in the last few years, following in Jorgensen’s footsteps. NJOI Trujillo and NJOI Santa Fe, owned and managed by Canadians Gino and Cristina Santarossa, and Paul and Lucio Todos, are real estate, resort-style projects for sale. Canadian journalist Sandra Cuffe writes about NJOI’s projects built illegally inside land owned communally by the Garifuna community of Guadalupe.
It is likely that many, if not all of these tourism-related investments are in serious risk, given that most, if not all recent tourism investment projects, going back to before the 2009 military coup, and particularly since the coup, are being constructed on Garifuna lands and territories that have been illegally acquired, in one fashion or another. Garifuna community and human rights defenders believe, and hope, that the usurpation charges against Randy Jorgensen are only the first of many legal challenges to come.
Jorgensen’s Legal Problems, Past and Present
The current charges against the Porn King are not Jorgensen’s first run-in with the Honduran legal system. In 2001, Jorgensen and his father, Roy Jorgensen, fought charges of proxenetismo de menores or prostitution of minors, all the way to the Honduran Supreme Court. There are concerns of corruption related to how the charges were ultimately dropped. Then in 2011, Jorgensen reported to the Honduran press that Honduran banks had closed his accounts for “unknown reasons”. Locals in Trujillo Bay also report that Jorgensen has strong ties to the Lobo family that have been accused of drug trafficking. Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, was arrested in May of this year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on drug trafficking charges in connection to the drug cartel operating in the Trujillo area, known as “Los Cachiros.” Lobo was extradited to stand trial in the U.S.
The most recent usurpation charges against Randy Jorgensen come as a surprise given the high levels of corruption and impunity in the Honduran judicial system. Although the recent charges seem hopeful, many are skeptical that the charges will proceed, if at all, in Honduran courts.
Photo caption: Randy Jorgensen (left) with Ramon Lobo (center) and former President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo (right). Photo from Life Vision Development.