Dear Cesario Padilla,
Today, as PEN International commemorates the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, I want to congratulate you for having the courage to raise your voice in a country where criminals act with impunity, and where human rights go unprotected.
Three years ago, you and five colleagues were expelled from university – the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) – because of your leading role in peaceful protests. Even though you were later readmitted to the University, you decided to move to Costa Rica to continue your studies because of the harassment you had suffered. But even in Costa Rica you continued to be harassed with telephone threats. You were followed and watched by armed men in the street.
With two other students, you created a Committee to Defend the Human Rights in July 2015 at the same University, in order to identify the systemic violations of the legitimate rights of assembly and freedom of expression. A childish and absurd accusation of “usurping” the UNAH facilities for student demonstrations was used as a pretext to allow an official court to sentence you and your colleagues on 7 June 2017.
You live in a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world; where crimes against civilians, journalists and human rights defenders go unpunished. You live in a city, where criminal gangs prevail. Even beyond the capital, security is at stake. As you well know, Cesario, the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres was an advocate for the rights of the indigenous Lenca people, and a leader in the struggle against the building of the “Agua Zarca” dam, which, if built, will stop the flow of the Gualcarque river, sacred for the area’s native people. Berta was shot dead in her house by two hired assassins on the night of 2 March 2016. Despite the constant threats she received, the authorities ignored an order issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect her.
PEN Honduras, the organization to which you belong, immediately denounced the egregious crime: “We ask the international community to use all means at their disposal to demand swift justice and ensure that this crime is not added to the long list of impunity in Honduras.”
The murder of Berta Cáceres has not been clarified to date, and impunity reigns. A few days ago, an ad hoc group, the International Advisory Group of Experts, revealed the involvement of “numerous state workers (police, military and civil servants), as well as directors and employees of DESA [Desarrollos Energéticos, SA, the Honduran company managing the Agua Zarca dam project] in the planning, execution and cover up” of the crime.
Knowing about her and other cases, I am worried about you. I admire what you do, what you defend, and what you believe in. When I was the International President of PEN, after receiving death threats, I spent a year in Mexico with official bodyguards. I know what it means to live in the shadows because of a justified fear. Having been a student leader, and now being an independent journalist, it is the same for you, now that you are exposed to intimidation and reprisals. I want you to know that your fellow writers, in more than a hundred countries around the world, stand in solidarity with you.
With my sincere friendship,
Take action for Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa here.