On April 7, 2019, the Fund lost two cherished colleagues: Ana Paula Hernández and Sally O’Neill. Both were killed in an automobile accident in Guatemala, along with driver Daniel Tuc and Ana Velásquez, a member of the indigenous rights group Consejo Wuxtaj. Today marks the second anniversary of their tragic deaths.
Ana Paula and Sally were the heart of the Fund’s Latin America program—and pillars of the human rights and social justice movements in Mexico and Central America. They dedicated their lives to promoting dignity and equality for all people.
“Ana Paula and Sally were brilliant, fierce human rights advocates and funny, warm friends to everyone they knew. They had a huge impact on my life—and on the lives of countless others—and continue to inspire me every day,” says David B. Mattingly, the Fund’s vice president for programs. “Their legacies will long be felt in the work they catalyzed, connections they forged, and communities they dedicated their lives to serve.”
To honor their lives and legacies, in 2019 the Fund established the Hernández O’Neill Memorial Fund for Human Rights Defenders in Latin America. This memorial fund carries their spirits forward by providing crucial support to activists and advocates throughout Latin America, including dedicated funding for women-led initiatives.
The Hernández O’Neill Memorial Fund continues to resource innovative, essential work in Latin America. Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic upended the region, destroying lives and livelihoods, the memorial fund made critical emergency grants possible—sustaining vital work across Mexico and Central America. Here are just a few ways that support has helped human rights defenders persist through these challenging times.
Psychosocial Support for Survivors in Guatemala
Political violence bears long-lasting effects—especially on victims of grave human rights abuses. The Team for Community Studies and Psychosocial Action (Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial, or ECAP) is one of the leading psychosocial support groups in Guatemala. Founded in 1996, they work closely with rural and indigenous communities who suffered from atrocities committed during Guatemala’s civil war.
ECAP plays a vital role in Guatemala’s transitional justice efforts. They provide accompaniment to witnesses of human rights violations who must testify in court, and support family members of victims who are pursuing justice. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have offered psychosocial and psychological help to grieving families who have lost loved ones. And they’ve helped organize urgent humanitarian aid, including the delivery of food to survivors of human rights abuses.
When a gap in available funding threatened their ability to work earlier this year, the Fund stepped in to help with an emergency grant. With these resources from the Hernández O’Neill Memorial Fund, ECAP can continue their fight for justice.
Protecting Activists Under Threat in Honduras
In recent years, the security of Fund-supported groups in Honduras has deteriorated rapidly. Organized crime and drug trafficking has proliferated, while the government offers few protections to human rights defenders who are fighting for their communities. Extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances have become frighteningly common. And the country’s highly militarized response to the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse.
Ana Paula and Sally witnessed these challenges firsthand. Through their lifelong work, as well as through their deep relationships with the activists and communities they supported, they understood the painful hardships that human rights defenders face in Latin America. That’s why one of the key pillars of their memorial fund is providing critical protection to activists at risk—including those facing violent attacks and retributive legal charges.
In dedication to their memories, the Fund has made a number of emergency grants to rights groups under threat in Honduras. These funds will help them implement life-saving security measures—designed and led by the communities themselves.
El Salvador’s Free Press Fights On
El Faro was Latin America’s first online-only newspaper—it was founded by unpaid volunteers in 1998, the same year as Google. Today, it’s a celebrated regional newsroom that offers in-depth investigative reporting on topics like corruption, organized crime, migration, inequality, and human rights.
Since his inauguration in June 2019, El Salvador’s president, Nayeb Bukele, has vilified the free press as enemies of the state or foreign agitators. Journalists have been physically attacked, and newspapers have been knocked offline by devastating cyberattacks. Bukele has banned El Faro from his press conferences and accused it of money laundering. Last year, he ordered a full institutional audit of the newspaper—every financial record and contract since 2012.
This state-imposed audit has put a tremendous financial burden on El Faro, which relies heavily on philanthropic grants to operate. El Faro is one of the last-remaining independent news outlets in the region—without their critical eye, Latin America’s free press would be on the ropes. Thanks to the Hernández O’Neill Memorial Fund, the Fund was able to make an emergency grant to El Faro earlier this year. This pivotal support will help El Faro retain the legal and auditing expertise they need to withstand this state-sanctioned attack and remain a beacon of journalism in Latin America.