Canadian Jesuits fear that the life of Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno may be in danger because of his activism in Honduras. Photo courtesy of Radio Progreso

Jesuits fear priest’s life in danger

By 
  • September 4, 2017

Provincial superiors of the English and French Canadian arms of the Jesuits wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Aug. 11 asking him to put pressure on the government of Honduras to protect the life of Jesuit Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno.

Their plea came in the wake of 24 Canadian organizations banding together to express shock at a government agency report which they fear could place their people in danger.

Canadian Jesuits International, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and the ecumenical social justice organization Kairos are among the organizations which have asked International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne to withdraw a report released by the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor.

In the 47-page report on Canadian mining conflicts in Honduras, CSR Counsellor Jeffrey Davidson opined that Canadian NGOs are “ideologically positioned against mining” (italics in the original) and that they have pushed “confrontational and adversarial approaches when dealing with companies and the Honduran government.” He implies that Canadian organizations are to some extent calling the shots for Honduran environmental activists.

Church organizations fear Davidson’s words could get somebody killed. The Jesuits are doubly concerned because they believe one of their own is in danger.

“Currently the situation is escalating and Fr. Melo is again being targeted,” said the letter to Trudeau from Jesuit Fathers Peter Bisson and Erik Oland. “We therefore urge you and the Government of Canada to apply immediate pressure on the Government of Honduras to ensure that the rule of law is upheld, that Fr. Melo’s safety and freedom are protected, and that all people in Honduras enjoy the full range of human rights.”

Moreno is well known throughout Honduras for his activism. He was a close associate of Berta Cáceres, an environmentalist and Indigenous rights activist murdered last year by intruders in her home with connections to the Honduran military. Cáceres had worked in association with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, among many other organizations.

“In a highly, highly charged context like Honduras, these kinds of statements sometimes can make a difference between life and death for people,” Canadian Jesuits International executive director Jenny Cafiso told The Catholic Register.

The idea that Honduran activists are dancing to the tune of foreign entities would be justification enough in some Honduran circles for violence, she said.

Davidson stands by his analysis in the CSR report.

“How foreign-based NGOs and their local affiliates and counterparts have interacted with companies, governments and communities has framed much of the conversation. I felt that was true in Honduras,” he said in an interview. “It has contributed — I didn’t say it caused, I say it contributed — to the strained and tense situation that currently exists.”

The British NGO Global Witness has named Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders.

A Global Affairs spokesperson told The Catholic Register it does not control what Davidson says.

“Views expressed by the CSR Counsellor are not subject to the approval of the Minister or the Federal Public Service,” said an email reply to questions. “Any questions or concerns about the CSR Counsellor’s reports should be addressed to the CSR Counsellor.”

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