by Molly Holden
On October 9, Rev. Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J., popularly known as “Padre Melo,” spoke to a group of BC students and faculty on the violence and ongoing human rights violations in Honduras, currently the “Murder Capital of the World.” His presentation, The Price of Truth: Human Rights in Honduras Since the Coup, addressed the struggles and success of building a fair and inclusive society. Drawing on his own experience as a human rights activist in Honduras and elsewhere, Padre Melo’s discussion offered an in-depth analysis of the systemic reasons for the continued violence and widespread impunity in Honduras. Even amidst death threats, Padre Melo continues to advocate for human rights and freedom of expression in Honduras. Padre Melo is the director of Radio Progresso, a Christian based radio station that is a leader in investigative reporting and advocacy. In addition to his work with Radio Progresso, Padre Melo is the director of the Center for Reflection, Research and Communication, a think tank that studies societal trends and public opinion in Honduras.
Since the June 2009 constitutional crisis and coup d’état in which the Honduran military ousted then-president Manuel Zelaya, the government has restricted civil liberties and has terrorized the public. Since the coup, over 25 journalists and social activists have been murdered and many more have been kidnapped, tortured and intimidated by the military government. Radio Progresso, Padre Melo’s show, was shut down by the military at the time of the coup and has been occupied several times since. In his testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Committee of the US Congress in 2012, Padre Melo asked members of the committee how freedom of expression could “be defended in a country like Honduras where the biggest violators of the this fundamental freedom are the friends and partners of a “democracy” backed by the policies and agencies of the U.S government?” Padre Melo stated that around 80% of cocaine imported to the United States comes through Honduras by way of Colombia. However, U.S attempts to combat drug trafficking in Honduras (and elsewhere in Latin America) place power and money in the hands of Honduran military officials and politicians who are deeply tied to the drug lords. In other words, drug traffickers, weakening the rule of law and increasing violence, control the Honduran government at all levels. Through his work with the Center for Reflection, Research and Communications, Padre Melo and his colleagues look for ways to defend and support human rights organizations and grassroots groups threatened by the Honduran government.
Padre Melo has committed his life and energy to protecting and promoting human rights in Honduras and elsewhere. His remarks and reflections prompted a larger dialogue that is important for all people of faith, especially those within the Catholic tradition. Catholic social thought proclaims that all life is sacred and that the dignity of the person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. In Honduras, the government has failed to protect and promote the dignity of its citizens. Catholic social thought states that not only is the person sacred, but that the person is social. How we organize society—in law, economics, and policy—directly affects human dignity and an individual’s capacity to grow. When the Honduran government restricts access to information and terrorizes its citizen, they are restricting the Honduran people’s right to participate in society and to grow as a community.
Finally, the Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can only be upheld and communities can only thrive if human rights are protected. Each human has a right to life and livelihood. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities that we each have to ourselves, to one another and to the larger society. The human rights violations in Honduras not only impact the citizens of Honduras, they impact our global human community. Padre Melo’s presentation is a call to action. One way we as Catholics can work to end the violence in Honduras is to urge the Obama Administration and United State Congress to cut off U.S. funding of the Honduran military. We must support international and grassroots efforts that seek to protect human dignity by demanding justice for those terrorized by the Honduran military.
We are one human family equal in front of God and it is our duty as Catholics to protect our brothers and sisters everywhere. The Gospel calls us to be promoters of peace. Pope Paul VI taught that if we want to achieve peace, we must work for justice. Catholic social teaching tells us that to show our love for all our brothers and sisters, we must promote peace and justice in the world and seek to end conflict and violence.