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Mendoza family felt their lives were in danger in Honduras

It has been a year of grief and loss—the loss of her husband and the loss of her home and country. A year of fear as Mercedes Zelaya Mendoza and her four children fled from death threats in Honduras and traveled through unknown territories. She left behind her country last August when the Honduran government could not protect them from death threats.

It was March 15, 2016 in Honduras when Mendoza and two of her children witnessed the killing of her husband, Nelson Garcia. He was murdered outside their home just two weeks after the murder of Berta Caceres, well known activist and General Coordinator for COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras).

The day before Garcia’s’ murder he had been present at a land reclamation project organized by about 180 families in an area known as Rio Chiquito in the municipality of San Francisco de Yojoa, Cortes. For two years, he and his family had been involved in a land struggle that identified and coordinated their actions as a base community of the COPINH.

After returning to his home a short distance from the land recuperation, it is reported that a young man walked up to Nelson and shot him.

Following his murder, the Garcia family and relatives faced non-stop threats. Fearful for her children’s lives and hers as well, Mercedes Zelaya Mendoza decided to mortgage her home in Honduras and use the money to travel to the United States.

“We suffered a lot in our journey here. We were inside a container for 17 hours, but we were running away to save our lives. I will never forget what I went through and I have never thought we would go through all of that,” she said.

Speaking out on the one-year anniversary of the death of her husband, Mendoza said, “I have been very sad these days at the anniversary of my husband’s killing. We were running away from our country. We lived in two different parts before we left for the United States, but we weren’t safe there with our information going public we felt more unsafe,” she said.

Judy Ancel, President of The Cross-Border Network, held a news conference last week outside the Overland Park, Kansas’ office of U.S. Representative Kevin Yoder. The Cross-Border Network is a Kansas City non-profit, which educates and advocates for working people in the global economy. The non-profit organization arranged for a meeting between Mendoza and members of Yoder’s staff.

In conjunction with the news conference, a protest organized by Cross-Border Network was held outside Yoder’s office. The protest marked the first anniversary of the deaths of Garcia and Berta Caceres.

“Both were killed because they defended poor farmers and indigenous people against the destruction of their resources and land by predatory corporations and corrupt politicians. Although arrests have been made in both cases, in neither have those behind the assassination plots … the intellectual authors of the crimes … been brought to justice and even the hired guns have not yet been tried,” said Ancel.

She went on to read her statement, “In Honduras, the vast majority of crimes remain unpunished-in impunity-while a corrupt government allied with drug traffickers sells off the country’s extensive natural resources to foreign interests. Much of this is done on our dime. United States aid to Honduras has not only funded massive militarization of the country where military regularly patrols the streets, but also, as the Guardian showed on February 28th, trained operatives who plotted the murder of Berta Caceres. Global Witness reports that ‘more than 120 people have died since 2010. The victims were ordinary people who took a stand against dams, mines, logging or agriculture on their land … murdered by state forces, security guards or hired assassins. Countless others have been threatened, attacked or imprisoned,” she stated.

On March 2, 2017, Congressman Hank Johnson (GA) reintroduced the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, HR 1299, calling for the suspension of all US funding to Honduran security forces.

The bill states that ‘The Honduran police are widely established to be a deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention and murder with impunity’ and that the military has committed violations of human rights, and therefore asks that the United States 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.’

When Ancel and the Cross-Border Network for Justice and Solidarity learned that Mercedes Mendoza and her children were in Kansas City, they wanted to help them.

“Helping is part of the solidarity work and we have been working with Honduras and trying to support human rights there since the coup in 2009. When the call came that she and her children were here in Kansas City and they needed help, the Cross-Border Network stepped up, it wasn’t just me, we had lots of support from people and donations,” said Ancel.

At the news conference, Mendoza told everyone that she is thankful for the support they have received.

“I thank God for the support of the people in the United States. I don’t want to be deported back to my country. I plea not to be deported. I am asking for asylum,” said Mendoza.

According to Ancel, the family has a court date next week as they have applied for asylum.

“Lately we have heard a lot about criminal immigrants, but we hear little about immigrants who are fleeing criminals. What makes it worse is that so often they are fleeing criminals armed with American made weapons, and in cahoots with police and military trained and armed by ours,” said Ancel.

Mendoza will have an asylum hearing here in Kansas City on September 8, 2017.