For the full story please visit: The Framing of Chavelo Morales
- In 2000, during the night of May 14th and the early morning hours of the 15th, 700 – 900 peasant families, organized by the ”Peasant Movement of the Aguán” (MCA in its Spanish acronym), peacefully occupied about 250 hectares of land in Silín, Trujillo, Colón. Through this action the peasants protested against the land monopolization by local big landowners (such as Miguel Facussé, the richest man in Honduras, and Henry Osorto, ex-military and current Deputy-Commander of the National Police in the Department of Olancho). The MCA’s Founding Committee was created on April 13, 1999, involving the National Association of Honduran Campesinos (ANACH), the National Confederation of Rural Workers (CNTC), the National Campesino Association (ACAN) and the Honduran Association of Campesino Women (AHMUC). The mentioned land in Silín, in the center of which used to be the U.S. military’s Regional Military Training Center (CREM) comprises about 5,724 hectares. During the 80s it served as a military camp to train elements from the Nicaragua Contras and soldiers from El Salvador and Honduras for the bloody counter-insurgency taking place in their countries. After being abandoned by the military in 1991 it was passed on by the Attorney General of the Republic to the National Agrarian Institute (INA) for agrarian reform purposes. However, instead of transferring the land to the landless peasant families of the area, the Government of Honduras did not intervene when the municipality of Trujillo started to illegally sell land titles to military personnel (such as Osorto), politicians (such as Pepe Lobo) and known large landowners (such as Facussé). Pointing out the illegality of the sale of these land titles, the MCA was not only claiming the 250 hectares so far recovered, but also the total of 5,724 hectares of land in Silín.
- A number of armed attacks by the ranchers against the encampment set up by the peasant squatters culminated in the death of rancher Diógenes Osorto (brother of Henry) on July 27, 2000. In a common occurrence in Honduras, a local District Attorney from Trujillo had an invalid eviction notice written up at the insistence of (and with possible bribes from) the Osortos, and called the police and military in to evict the campesinos. Diogenes took it upon himself to terrorize the farmers who were in the midst of trying to negotiate the eviction with the District Attorney. He grabbed an AK47 and went after some campesinos who were able to defend themselves and kill him. They later led the police to his body. He was still gripping the AK47. Henry vowed revenge. The tensions surrounding this attempted eviction and the fact that it was a rich landlord who died and not a campesino led to the formation of a government commission, which sought to mediate the conflict. Nevertheless, the tense relationship between the campesinos and the ranchers continued. In the ensuing years, the MCA grew stronger and more organized and was seeking to legally obtain more land for the pressing needs of the campesinos.
- In May, 2008, under Decree 18-2008, parts of the land that the Osorto family claimed were LEGALLY ACQUIRED by two of the MCA empresas (cooperatives): Luchamos Juntos and Santa Maria de los Angeles. Chavelo’s family belongs to the latter. In response, the Osortos hired guards who acted as paramilitaries, illegally attempting to forcibly evict the campesinos and firing rounds from high caliber weapons in the direction of people working in the fields. Henry Osorto was also seen carrying grenades and he had threatened to use them.
- June 5, 2008, Osorto’s guards brutally evicted the campesinos from three properties.
- June 11th, Don Irene Ramirez, who had been receiving death threats from Osorto’s guards, was assassinated the day after he had been on Radio Catolica in Trujillo stating the need to implement Decree 18-2008.
- August 3, 2008. Very early that morning, several of Osorto’s guards wearing bullet-proof vests advanced on campesinos who were camping on the land of the Santa Maria cooperative in order to protect their legitimate right to the property. The guards began to fire on the campesinos with high caliber rifles. One campesino was injured. All the others were able to escape except for a thirteen-year-old girl who was detained by the guards and slapped around and threatened with death if she didn’t give information about who the leaders of the group were and where they could be found. After a couple of hours, she was released and the guards retreated to the nearby house of the Osortos known as Rancho Henry.
- The campesinos tried in vain to get help from the local police regarding the invasion of the guards and the kidnapping. After this effort failed, they began to arrive at Rancho Henry. Eventually about 300 people surrounded the house and a standoff ensued. The police watched from a distance. In the meantime, a bullet fired from the house hit Jose Arnulfo Guevara who was walking on the main road. Before Arnulfo was killed, the campesinos were demanding two things: that the police intervene and that the guards who attacked the Santa Maria encampment that morning surrender to the police. During this time, MCA leaders were in Trujillo trying to get the police to intervene and others from Human Rights organizations in Tegucigalpa were on their phones calling various local and national government officials trying to get some kind of law enforcement intervention all to no avail.
- Ultimately, around 4:30 PM, an explosion occurred in the house and the structure was engulfed in flames. There was never a competent nor completed forensic investigation of the explosion and the fire which killed several guards and Osorto family members. Police eventually entered the house after the flames died out, but no arrests were made, indeed, the campesinos helped the police remove the bodies from the charred remains of the house.
- It was not until October 17, 2008, that Chavelo was arrested and his ordeal with the Honduran legal system began. His arrest was based on a photo taken by a journalist with Radio Catolica which appeared to locate him at the scene of the confrontation. He was not allowed to talk to an attorney for six days. Chavelo was charged with 11 counts of murder, 1 count of attempted murder, 1 count of arson and 1 count of aggravated robbery. Two weeks later they also arrested Carlos Antonio Maradiaga, another member of Guadalupe Carney, and charged him with the exact same crimes. The two of them sat in La Porvenir prison for close to two years before they were brought to trial.
- During this time, Henry Osorto was seen making frequent visits to El Provenir prison. He took Chavelo’s cellmates out for long interviews only to have them come back and instigate confrontations with him. One cellmate approached Chavelo with scissors and threatened him. Other prisoners overheard four inmates plotting Chavelo’s death. Because of this, he has been sleeping in the guard’s quarters for his own protection. In addition, two of his cellmates were poisoned by orange juice meant for him. Consequently, Chavelo has stopped eating the food cooked by the prison and has been allowed to prepare his own meals. This is not as good as it might sound since he has to wait for family, friends or human rights organizations to bring him food. He sometimes goes several days without eating.
- On June 14th 2010 the trial finally began. People who sat in on it recalled the over the top venom and anger of the prosecutor and assistant prosecutor directed toward Chavelo. They stared at him with utter contempt attempting to intimidate him. He and Carlos were tried together and there was none of this same contempt shown toward Carlos. Witnesses often changed their previous testimonies to the point that all of the witnesses against Chavelo sounded like they were giving the exact same testimony, as if rehearsed together.
- At one point during the trial the lights went out, a common occurrence in Honduras, but this happened just before a key witness for Chavelo was to testify. It was the journalist from Radio Católica whose testimony placed Chavelo away from the gunfire and the burning house. In the sentencing statement his testimony is missing. The photo that was used to incriminate Chavelo in the first place was allowed to stand without the context in which it was taken. The photo supports Chavelo’s story. It does not mesh with the Osorto version that Chavelo was brandishing an AK47 or any firearm. The photo clearly shows that Chavelo had a machete, Arnulfo’s machete, and he was coming from the small house 80 yards away from the main house at Rancho Henry alongside the blood drenched body of his slain friend.
- At the conclusion of the trial, Carlos was acquitted of all charges. Chavelo was acquitted of attempted murder, arson, robbery and ten counts of murder. He was convicted on one count of murder, that of Manrique Osorto, Henry’s nephew. It would be another two years before he was sentenced.
- In another instance of the lack of justice for Chavelo, the court denied a writ of habeas corpus filed by his defense lawyers in January of 2011 which declared that his imprisonment was illegal because it violated the Honduran Criminal Procedure Code. This code states that a person cannot be held longer than two years without sentencing. The court denied the request because the lawyers were not allowed to appeal unless there was a sentence!
- July 24, 2012, the sentence was finally handed down without the presence of either Chavelo or his lawyers at the hearing. Now that there is a sentence of 20 years, the lawyers are asking that it be nullified due to the violation of the penal code and the fact that there is NO evidence in the sentencing statement that justifies a conviction.
- January 28th, 2013, The Supreme Court finally receives the “recurso de causalidad” (appeal of causation) filed by Chavelo’s lawyers asking for Chavelo’s immediate freedom based on the violations under the Penal Code.
April 9th, 400 protesters enter Tegucigalpa after walking from El Progreso with one of their demands being the immediate release of Chavelo.
The Magistrates of the Supreme Court agree to a meeting with the Defense Lawyer, members of Chavelo’s family and members of national and international Human Rights organizations. The Magistrates agree to do what they can to speed up the appeal process.
- November 5th 2013, The Supreme Court rules in favor of Chavelo, nullifying his sentence and conviction and ordering a retrial. They also order that he be released from prison during the new process. It takes several weeks for the paperwork to be prepared and delivered to the Tribunal in Trujillo so that the order for Chavelo’s release can be signed by the sentencing judges and sent to the prison.
- In direct violation of the Supreme Court order, the Tribunal refuses to sign the orders. Chavelo’s lawyers file a writ of Habeas Corpus with the Appeals Court in La Ceiba demanding that the Tribunal follow the orders of the Supreme Court.
- January 7th, 2014, an initial hearing of the new trial occurs. This is little more than a formality so that the Defense and the Prosecution can state their cases, and then the judges of the tribunal adjourn the hearing so that they can look over the charges. They are also supposed to give the orders that would follow the Supreme Courts order for Chavelo’s release. The judges adjourn before considering the order. The Defense immediately petitions the court to consider it. They recess the court for lunch and to deliberate on the petition stating that they would reconvene at 3pm. 3pm comes and goes and they do not reconvene. The Tribunal closes at 5 and there is still no decision from the judges. A truck of 10 military soldiers enters the parking lot of the Tribunal. This is the only indication that Chavelo’s family and supporters got that the judges were not going to reconvene and render a decision on his release.
- January 27th. The first day of the new trial. The defense filed a motion to recluse two of the three judges on the presiding panel because they were the same judges from the Tribunal in Trujillo who violated procedures in hearing and refusing to act on the Supreme Court ruling that Chabelo could be freed pending a new trial. The judges then decided to suspend the trial until a higher court rules on the defense motion.
*For complete reporting of the new trial please visit the Honduras Resists blog
- January 29th. Chabelo’s new trial was reconvened with the same panel of judges as the first day.
- February 5. The landowner who started violence in the land dispute with the campesinos of Guadalupe Carney, Police Sub-commander Henry Vicente Osorto testified. According to those present in the courtroom the prosecution created major theatrical effect — previously they complained that he was not answering the orders to appear— while everyone (except the judges) was in the courtroom for a supposed 8:30 am start, nothing happened until 9:30 am. The judges entered at that time and the prosecution introduced Osorto as the next witness. The defense team was not notified that Osorto was going to show up.
- Most shocking was Osorto’s testimony – he blatantly contradicted his testimony and statements made for the 2010 trial. He was not present at the confrontation but has testified that he had phone conversations with family members who were there including Carlos Manrique Osorto the man that Chabelo is accused of killing. The 2010 testimony by Henry Osorto was only that Carlos Manrique said there were campesinos surrounding the house , noise, etc. without mentioning any names at all. But in Wednesday’s testimony he claimed that he asked Carlos Manrique if he recognized anyone and was told that “Jose Isabel Morales” was the one who shot him and furthermore Henry claims now that Chabelo took the phone from Carlos Manrique while talking to Henry and told Henry “ see what we have done to your family, you think you are so big”. The defense team moved to declare the testimony invalid but despite the clear the contradictions. The judges ruled against the defense.
- There were other inconsistencies between Wednesday’s testimony and 2010. In 2010 Osorto testified that in general the campesinos were peaceful neighbors but this time he made long statements about how the campesinos are terrorists; he verbally attacked the campesino organization MUCA (who are not at Guadalupe Carney) as having terrorist cells and accused Chabelo of having brought in others from outside to carry out a massacre. This “new testimony” comes straight out off the pages of the propaganda campaigns waged against MUCA, the MCA and other campesinos since the 2009 coup by the giant land owners in the Aguan such as Miguel Facusse and the Honduran military command in the Aguan (most recently, Coronel German Alfaro). It is worth remembering at this point that the conflict between Osorto and the Campesino Movement of the Aguan (MCA) arises from illegal sales/purchases by ex-military and police official s such as Osorto and later landowners like Miguel Facusse of the land that was part of a military base run by the U.S. for training and operations for the Honduran and Salvadoran military and the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980’s. The base was closed in 1985 and the land became Honduran government (public) ruled as eligible for land reform distribution to the poor and landless campesinos.
- During Wednesday’s session Chabelo’s defense lawyers also objected to the fact that this testimony by Henry Osorto as well as the changed testimony by the prosecution’s other witnesses and other “evidence” was a surprise to them as the prosecution had not informed them of this “new evidence” as required.
 Agrarian Reform and the Human Right to Food in Honduras, Report of the FIAN International and Via Campesina Fact Finding Mission July 29 – August 2, 2000. Heidelberg /Geneva, August 14, 2000, http://www.fian.org/fileadmin/media/publications/Agrarian-Reform-and-the-Human-Right-to-Food-in-Honduras-2000.pdf