Elmvale woman in middle of fight for human rights in Honduras
Edwin Espinal and Karen Spring
Elmvale’s Spring family lobbies Liberal government to help free son-in-law from Honduran jail
by Ian Adams Wasaga Sun
A woman who grew up on a farm outside Elmvale is in the middle of the fight for human rights in the Central American nation of Honduras.
And while Karen Spring is attempting to have her partner of eight years, Edwin Espinal, freed from a military prison after he was arrested in January, her family back in Canada is doing what it can to raise the issue with the public and federal politicians.
Janet said her daughter was interested in world issues through high school, and did a fifth year at the University of Toronto in order to complete a women’s study course on world issues related to health.
That led to research work in Guatemala on the impact of Canadian-owned mining operations on the health of native Guatemalans.
“She got involved with the people, and she just loves the people there. She’s a real grassroots person,” said Janet.
In 2009, her employer at the time, Toronto-based Rights Action, sent her to Honduras to monitor the military coup.
She is now co-ordinator of the Honduran Solidarity Network, working with 60 human rights organizations operating in the country, investigating working and living conditions, as well as the illegal detention and eviction of farmers and Indigenous people from their lands.
“She works with a lot of upsetting cases: murders, detentions, getting people out of prison; you can imagine what the conditions are like in the prisons, they’re absolutely deplorable,” said Janet.
She met Edwin Espinal, a Honduran national and a pro-democracy human rights worker, in 2009.
In January, Espinal was thrown into a military prison following protests against November’s contentious general elections.
Espinal has since gone on a hunger strike in an effort to draw international attention to the plight of Hondurans, and the nearly 30 political prisoners who have been arrested since January.
Janet said the authorities have shut the water off to the prison, limiting the prisoners’ access to water for five minutes a day to drink, shower, or toilet with.
In spite of the dangers, Janet is confident her daughter has enough contacts in the Canadian and international community to keep her safe.
“The Honduran government targets the Hondurans; they’re very hard on the Hondurans.
“They know who Karen is … there have been defamation campaigns against her sent out by the regime,” she said. “So yes, I’m very worried about her. I worry about her all the time. When she doesn’t call me during the day, I worry about her.
“But, what makes me feel a little bit better is that she has a high profile, the Government of Canada knows her … that, in some respects, makes her a little bit safer.”
Janet said she is so far disappointed in the response of the Canadian government to the family’s call to act on Espinal’s behalf, though she credits local Conservative MPs Bruce Stanton and Alex Nuttall for raising the issue.
“We just urge people to keep sending letters, (asking), ‘What are you doing about this?’,” she said. “This is a human rights issue; in the free trade agreement (signed in 2013), the mandate of the Canadian government was the rights of the pro-democracy workers was upheld.
“If you give them assistance, it’s not an internal affair, it’s an external affair, and the Canadian government has to make good with that promise to uphold the human rights of the people.”
The Springs are holding a community meeting on April 8 at the Elmvale Community Hall at 2 p.m. to talk about Espinal’s imprisonment and the need for the Canadian government to push the Honduran government on the issue of human rights.