On 15 September 2020, Independence Day in Honduras, a massive demonstration called by trade unions, students and other sectors of society gathered in Tegucigalpa’s Parque Central (Central Park) to protest against corruption and mismanagement of public funds around the Covid-19 pandemic. The demonstrators intended to read a proclamation against the policies of the then president Juan Orlando Hernández. They also demanded to know what had happened to the five young Afro-descendants that had disappeared three months before. The national police fired tear gas canisters at demonstrators and used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras condemned the use of force against citizens by the police. It found that these actions constituted a violation of fundamental rights in the midst of a suspension of constitutional guarantees dictated in Honduras by then President Juan Orlando Hernández, who had established a state of emergency and a curfew in the whole country. This decree nullified guarantees as broad as freedom of thought, freedom of movement, and freedom of association, allowing the State to detain citizens for an indefinite period of time and to search private homes.
Several protesters were injured during the repression and had to be taken to the hospital. Among them was Cristian Espinoza, a 26-year-old artist who was hit in the eyes by a jet of high-pressure water mixed with chemicals.
Cristian testified in court that while he was in the park, the police began to break up the demonstration. Some demonstrators responded by throwing stones at police officers, while people were being arrested and others started running away. Cristian was trapped at the center of the park; he moved back looking for a way out and then saw a blue water cannon tank with tinted windows. The water cannon fired a jet of high-pressure water at him. The water hit him violently in the eyes and detached his eyelids. The pressure was so strong that he lost sight and fell to the ground. Some people came to his aid and carried him on their backs when Cristian fainted. He regained consciousness in the emergency room of the Hospital Escuela Universitario (HEU), where he was told that the retina of his right eye was detached and that he would need surgery to have both eyelids repaired.
The first surgery took place that same night. Espinoza remained in the hospital for eight days due to the severity of his eye injuries which almost rendered him blind. In the following
months, he went through a difficult recovery; his vision was affected both by artificial light and sunlight, and he suffered strong headaches. This prevented him from working as a craftsman and circus performer. He underwent two more surgeries to recover his sight.
Cristian points out that he was always committed to political activism, but that after what happened in 2020, on that September day, everything changed; it was not just him who was affected, but also his family, mainly his mother.