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Springwater Township calls on Freeland to intervene in Honduras

In Council Watch
Apr 22nd, 2018
Janet and Karen Spring with Springwater Mayor Don Allen, in 2018 photo

Janet and Karen Spring with Springwater Deputy Mayor Don Allen

‘Not dealing with a normal bunch down there’ – Councillor Perry Ritchie

News release from Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor 

Springwater Township Council has unanimously voted to call on the federal government to uphold human rights and the rule of law in Honduras and to urgently intervene to help free Edwin Espinal and other political prisoners in that country.

Deputy Mayor Don Allen put forward a motion at the request of the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor, started by the Springs, a well-known local farm family.

“My family and the families of all political prisoners are deeply grateful for the support from Springwater,” Karen Spring said after the meeting. “This resolution is a demonstration of the stance of local residents in relation to human rights issues that affect us all, one way or another.

“Thank you to Springwater Township for the support and for insisting that Minister Freeland’s office demand the immediate release of Edwin and all political prisoners.”

Spring has been based in Honduras for nine years as the coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network which comprises more than 30 organizations from Canada and the United States. She and her mother Janet appeared before council April 18 2018.

Spring told council it’s been three months since her husband Edwin was detained by Honduran security forces. “I haven’t been able to speak with him for two weeks because phone communication has been turned off inside the prison as punishment for a protest that was carried out by other inmates.” The conditions in the prison are unbearable, she told council.

Prisoners have access to water for only 5 to 10 minutes a day, for drinking and washing, they are allowed two hours of sunlight a month, Espinal has not seen his family, with the exception of five visits from Spring before she left the country, he is given little food and has lost 10-15 pounds, and he has respiratory problems that may be related to widespread untreated tuberculosis among inmates.

Espinal’s arrest was part of a crackdown following public protests over an election November 26 2017 that opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla had appeared to be winning with a mathematically insurmountable lead. But late on election day, the count was suspended. When it resumed, President Juan Orlando Hernández was found to be receiving the majority of votes. The election has been widely condemned by international observers.

Some members of council expressed reservations about some of the wording of the resolution. The mayor put forward a series of amendments that eliminated some of the stronger language in the original motion with the aim, he explained, of making the message more effective with higher levels of government. “The objective to free Edwin is the only purpose that we have here – and those other prisoners, I’m not suggesting we’re not going to take care of them, because they’re all caught up in the same net,” French said.

Deleted from the Springwater motion:
– that Opposition Alliance presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla was “fraudulently robbed of victory”
– that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland “regrettably followed the United States lead in recognizing the Hernandez regime”
– that Espinal was arrested on “trumped up charges.”

Spring said she was willing to accept the changes but nevertheless defended the deleted wording. “There’s no rule of law in Honduras and there’s widespread corruption,” she added, explaining that the charges against Espinal and other political prisoners were “randomly ticked off” by prosecutors.

However, she argued that reference to “inhumane conditions” inside the prison should remain. “It’s a very strong message to the Honduran government that they’re not meeting international standards,” because James Hill, the Canadian ambassador to Honduras, has also raised concern about these horrific conditions. French agreed that reference to inhumane conditions should remain.

Janet Spring pointed out that much of the wording in the resolution is taken from the findings of international bodies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Organization of American States.

“Let’s not water it down too much here,” urged Councillor Perry Ritchie. He referred to information conveyed at a well-attended information meeting in Elmvale earlier this month. “These are people that walked out, grabbed the president and took off!” he said, referring to the kidnapping of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

“And then they’ve instilled a curfew that at 6 o’clock at night to 6 o’clock the next morning, if you’re caught outside, they automatically shoot you,” Ritchie said. “So to water this down, turn the other cheek, be nice about it, I don’t think it’s going to get anywhere. So I liked the way it was. But whatever it takes to get this passed, let’s do it and help these people – because we’re not dealing with a normal bunch down there.”

The majority of council voted for the mayor’s amendments. They then voted unanimously in favour of the deputy mayor’s resolution.

Link to the Springwater Council discussion  (start 54:08 end 1:37)

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