Xibalba was founded in 1989 as an organization with the mission of rehabilitating young persons with different classes of problems from drug abuse to gang membership, those which over time were stigmatized for their way of thinking, dressing, or acting, and others, for association with illegal acts of various kinds. We began this work in response to the radical increase of the extermination of minors and young adults in Honduras, initiating a campaign to slow these tragedies by means of public denouncements against those acts of corruption, rape, torture, and execution that provoked an environment of violence and fear in Honduras during the 1990s, and simultaneously, to establish opportunities for minors and young adults to integrate into the educational system and the workplace. The result of eighteen years of this labor is that as of the present day the repressive measures against Xibalba as an organization and against those who make up our network of volunteers has only intensified, despite the disarticulation of all public offices and the reduction of public promotion of our programs to nearly zero.
In the year 2002, the police of Central America were regionally integrated to create a unified strategy against street gangs. In Honduras, this event was adopted as direct persecution against young men and women with tattoos, these markings taken as the best identifier of persons involved with gangs. In these regional and national accords, there was no space created for the labor of groups working in prevention or rehabilitation, such as Xibalba. These laws articulated a politics of repression and initiated a period of national insecurity in Honduras. Groups such as Xibalba, working closely with at-risk minors and youth, were henceforth not seen as beneficial to the nation, but as groups through which the state authorities could find information about or access directly tattooed and persecuted persons. It was during this time that members of the Honduran police mounted campaigns against Xibalba and against persons who had changed their lives by means of programs offered by our organization. These police demanded that I personally deliver the names of youth who formed part of our organization—a demand which I refused. For my refusal to comply in this matter, which would have ensured the detentions and possible deaths of these individuals, there began a series of measures against my person as the public voice of Xibalba, and a systematic persecution of volunteers identified with Xibalba as an organization.
During the continual detention of supposed gang members by virtue of their tattoos, the Honduran police established tattoo experts as judicial actors with the authority to dictate whether a person should be allowed to live within state society or should be condemned to prison. The defense teams and families involved in these cases named me as the only expert in Honduras for the defense of persons accused of gang membership on the grounds of their tattoos. It was for my participation in these cases, for which thousands of persons have been imprisoned during the last five years, that many cases were overturned—a history which has case by case altered the opinions of Honduran judges and likewise the judicial rulings for "asociacion ilicita", or illegal association, as dictated under the regional Anti-Gang Law in Central America. It is important to realize that Xibalba has been seen the singular organization effectively resisting a regional and national application of state repression against a large sector of civil society. Though Xibalba has for this reason become a credible database for the national and international press, as well as international investigators from the United Nations, Harvard University, Columbia University, among other distinguished institutions, we have for the same reasons seen the personal security of our volunteers and participants in our programs threatened by members of the Honduran police and informal groups opposed to the guarantee of justice for every individual, no matter their background or the charges against them, in the Honduran courts.
For all of our work, we have seen an increase in our network of volunteers across Tegucigalpa and Honduras. The result has been a shift in political opinion regarding internal security and the penal system in Honduras, specifically seen in the rejection of the presidential campaign for the implementation of the death penalty, in order to implement instead programs of prevention. During this process I participated as the singular representative of groups in opposition to the death penalty, to publically challenge the president of the national congress to change the death penalty for prevention—a challenge made during a public discourse as the Honduran nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, and aired live in national and international press and then subject to longterm debate until the defeat of the death penalty candidate in the presidential election of 2005, and the actualization of prevention as a priority under the current administration (though these programs have yet to be initiated in reality). During the same period of time, Xibalba intervened in the youth detention center "Renaciendo" of Honduras documenting patterns of sexual abuse and torture against minors detained in the facility, and the laundering of funds for the detention center on part of state and nongovernmental organizations. These denouncements were heard in national and international press, and as the president and public voice of Xibalba, I was cited in the presidential office on part of the First Lady Aguas-Ocaña and her cabinet in demand that I retract all commentaries on the conditions of Renaciendo. However with the backing of the Associated Press of London and global humanitarian Juan Mestre of Spain, Xibalba reinforced actions and investigations against the First Lady and the center Renaciendo to the degree that the First Lady of the next presidential administration, Ciomara Zelaya, made the renovation of this detention center her first priority after inauguration. The result of the abovementioned actions on part of Xibalba has been the public rejection of the law and national programs of rehabilitation and reinsertion of youth offenders and gang members, as coordinated by state and nongovernmental bodies, and subsequently eliminated by the next presidential administration. Xibalba is the only non-governmental organization that currently maintains multiple offices inside the penitentiary system, documenting and providing legal testimony in the Honduran judicial system as to the rehabilitation of inmates having completed their sentences.
Likewise the persecution against my person, and hence volunteers of Xibalba, has incremented each step of the way to the extent that in my personal case, for example, I have faced several attempted kidnappings by the Honduran police and the constant surveillance of my activities that has led me to occupy several different living spaces simultaneously, and at the present time, abandon all of these living quarters for an undisclosed location. All of this has been thoroughly documented in different instances and legal orders in Honduras. For myself and Xibalba volunteers such as Rosa Vaquedano, we have submitted time and again the documentation of persecution of Xibalba`s volunteers and its effects on our personal lives to the National Commision for Human Rights in Honduras, the official state organization responsible for providing protection for persecuted persons and families. The confidential documents submitted on our behalf, and submitted in individual occasions, were then subsequently provided to the police officers against whom our legal actions were proceeding, and from whom we were seeking protection. I hope that you will take into consideration that cases such as ours, which are not unique in these details, demonstrate a state of total insecurity in Honduras up to the official organs established to protect human lives.
It has been for the labor that Xibalba as an organization has realized over time with active and former gang members, and young persons with drug problems, that our volunteers and offices have been subject to constant surveillance by the police. That is to say, the persons integrating into our programs are sought after and profiled by the Honduran government and repressive regional initiatives for tattooing their skin. Confronting the repressive politics of a government is not easy for a nongovernmental organization, much less when one learns from the constant testimonies of these same underaged youth and young adults that adults across the social classes of Honduras are daily demanding them to form part of illegal organizations such as car robbing bands, kidnapping bands, drug trafficking bands, bands for assault and robbery, and assassination. Former and active gang members are those who can disclose how organized crime works and who is involved, and one quickly finds out that not only tattooed young persons but also police officers, members of nongovernmental organizations, and members of human rights groups are involved in the deterioration of public security and ensuring the highest levels of criminal impunity. That is, it is not simply against the Honduran police and state institutions but against groups supposedly commited to the guaranteed protection of human rights, that Xibalba, and myself as organization president, have been forced to go to the international community in order to find a grain of social justice at a time.
To the present day, the repressive measures against Xibalba as an organization and against those who make up the organization have intensified to the extreme that we have had to disarticulate of all public offices and reduce the public promotion of our programs to nearly zero. However we find our organization strengthened despite these factors, given that Xibalba is not a building, nor an office, nor a bureaucracy, but a network of volunteers fulfilling an ethical promise to their communities—and risking their lives in order to do so. The moral and psychological damages that we suffer as volunteers are impossible to calculate or elaborate in a singular letter such as the one I am writing here, though Rosa Vaquedano`s presence in the exterior of Honduras, far from her native terrain and far from her family, should give some indication of the struggle that we face in Honduras, in a society where human lives have no value whatsoever.
ITSMANIA PINEDA PLATERO
ORGANIZATION XIBALBA ARTE AND CULTURE