By Alexandra Puffer
The Social Justice League welcomed Padre Melo, a Jesuit priest and progressive journalist from Honduras, as part of the Witness for Peace New England Tour on October 7, in the Conant Science Building’s auditorium.
Melo is the director of Radio Progresso, a national media leader dedicated to investigative reporting in Honduras. In June 2009, President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed and a new president was appointed. In November of that year, an election was overseen by the de facto regime leading to Porfirio Lobo winning the election. Because of Radio Progresso’s investigations it was shut down by the coup and has suffered military occupations.
Due to his investigative reporting and outspoken advocacy on behalf of the social inequality and criticism of government corruption in Honduras, Melo has been a target of death threats and has a bounty on his head. The United States State Department has released that nine journalists have been killed and it is suspected many more have been threatened with death, kidnapped, and tortured.
Melo credits the amount of social injustice to the small amount of knowledge about Honduras globally. Melo’s first question to the audience was to locate Honduras on a map of Latin America. He spoke entirely in Spanish with Lizz Perkins, a graduate from the University of Dayton, translating for him.
Perkins first got into activism during her time as an undergrad. She met Melo while in Honduras then and feels lucky to work and travel with “such an amazing and important human rights activist.”
Melo and other journalists at the Radio Progresso work with and defend organizations and communities who struggle to defend themselves from corporation in Honduras, from mining companies, to hydroelectric dams, and large landowners. With Perkins, Melo travels to the United States to help raise awareness of these causes.
“I’ve heard him say that working for social justice in defense of the defenseless is integral to who he is,” said Perkins. “It’s what he lives and breathes every day.”
Melo’s presentation alarmed members of the audience with the number of members of the Honduran media killed and held captive. However, he ended with hope and the encouragement that change is happening and that the United States is becoming aware of injustices in Latin America.
Melo encourages students at Bridgewater State University to take 10 minutes of their day to read about what is happening in Honduras and to pay close attention. He also urges students to write to influential politicians about their concern for Honduras and the rest of Latin America.
“Make sure your Congressional officials know your concerns about the U.S. government’s security policy in Honduras. Militarization is not the answer,” Melo said. “You could get involved with groups like Witness for Peace or School of the Americas Watch.”
Alexandra Puffer is The Comment’s Digital Editor. Follow her on Twitter at @AlexandraPuffer or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.