Elizabeth Gutierrez Reyes is the coordinator of the National People’s Resistance Front (FNRP) for Puerto Cortés, the port city a half hour to the north of Honduras’s industrial capital, San Pedro Sula. She has also championed maquila workers’ rights through the labor federation FESITRADEH, and the working women’s collective COMUTRA.
In 2009, Elizabeth spoke throughout the US regarding the sorry state of labor rights in the Honduran maquila industry. Elizabeth was an attendee at the FNRP’s first ever National Assembly in Siguatepeque, held February 12-13. The assembly produced the documents that outlined the Resistance’s organizational values, goals and working structure. Siguatepeque was a tremendous success that showcased the FNRP’s incredible abilities to overcome internal differences and the constant threat of politically motivated violence – a threat that once again was acted upon when Resistance member Hermes Reyes was attacked by right-wing extremists during a break from the assembly. Elizabeth almost missed the historic gathering due to another incident of political violence.
On Thursday, February 11, 2010, Elizabeth’s 14 year-old daughter [name withheld] was following her usual routine when she was savagely attacked by a group of “well-dressed” adults. As passengers began to board the bus that takes Elizabeth’s daughter home from school, an approximately 30-year old man in a collared shirt pulled her close to him and said something along the lines of, “Be careful not to scream, or I will kill you.” She noticed that he had a handgun in a holster under his jacket. Once they had their young victim isolated, the gun-toting man and several women dressed in business suits began to assault the teenager while yelling profanities at her. The violent group disparaged her mother repeatedly during the 10-15 minute long assault. The teenager immediately sensed that the ambush was related to her mother’s involvement in the FNRP.
Elizabeth’s daughter was left with several bruises on her body and severe scratches all over her face. Three days after the attack, I was able to personally confirm the existence of numerous long and deep scratch marks that covered parts of her forehead, cheeks, nose, and the areas around her mouth and eyes. It was apparent from her injuries that the 30-something year-old women who attacked the teen purposefully attempted to inflict psychological and physical harm by targeting the teenager’s face.
Ms. Gutierrez Reyes looked very upset as her daughter recounted the incident in a Puerto Cortés café. Elizabeth believes the assailants meant to prevent her from attending the FNRP’s National Assembly, which was set to begin in Siguatepeque the day after her daughter was attacked. Elizabeth was undeterred, and attended the assembly while friends and family members cared for her injured daughter.
The persecution of activists’ family members is a well-known (and often effective) strategy of right-wing extremist groups in Central America. Armed with the knowledge that some resisters will not be deterred by any violent means short of assassination, police, military and paramilitary groups cowardly target their loved ones in an attempt to guilt them into silence. Elizabeth is well aware of this strategy and has discussed the risks associated with her activities with her family. They have decided that they have no choice but to continue to fight for justice in Honduras. When asked if she believed in the Resistance’s cause, Elizabeth’s strikingly beautiful young daughter did not hesitate to answer yes.
The family reported the shameful incident to several state and non-state human rights organizations. Elizabeth and her daughter had an appointment with the state’s Human Rights Commission last Monday. Despite attempts to follow up on the outcome of the meeting (as well as the family’s condition), it is uncertain what steps the authorities were planning on taking in order to apprehend the assailants. Prior to the meeting, the family expressed little confidence in the will of Pepe Lobo’s Human Rights Commission to truly investigate the brutal crime.