HONDURAS: A TIME OF NO TIME
By Tom Loudon*
October 19, 2009
For the last week and a half, negotiations between President Zelaya and the coup government have dominated the news in Honduras. Last week, it appeared that a negotiated solution might emerge. However President Zelaya’s ‘absolute deadline’ of midnight October 15th came and went and absolutely nothing changed.
The ‘negotiations’ have the entire country suspended in a sort of time warp. Everyone waits for an outcome from the talks, which never emerges. Zelaya’s first extension, which was to have ended on Friday the 16th, has now been extended to today. However, coup leader Micheletti is now refusing to recognize what had previously been accepted and continues his stalling game. It is hard to know what could change between now and Monday which would lead to a resolution.
It is beginning to appear as if, in fact, there never has been any interest on the part of the de facto regime in a real resolution. Rather, negotiations have served to consume time, running the clock in the hope of using the November 29th elections to claim that a legitimate government has been elected.
This weekend, an unidentified person in the State Department is quoted promoting the notion that perhaps the U.S. would recognize the outcome of the elections even if Constitutional order is not restored, provided they are verified free of fraud by international observers. Although a certain number of countries may eventually go along with this approach, large sectors of people inside Honduras and most Latin American governments will not. Given the impasse on negotiations and failure to restore Constitutional order, the 13 ALBA countries have announced that they will not recognize the November elections and have resolved to promote that position among other countries.
The broad based national coalition against the coup [‘National Front Against the Coup’] in Honduras has issued a call for citizens to disrupt the elections. This weekend, Independent Presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes began holding popular assemblies proposing to his supporters that they affirm his decision to withdraw from the race. Today, the left wing UD party also announced that if there was not a restitution of Manuel Zelaya to the Presidency, they would also withdraw from the elections.
Meanwhile, the repression has been ramped up, posing serious new challenges for the resistance movement. The first response to the resistance on the part of the coup regime was to launch uncontrolled violence and blanket repression against protesters, and anyone else in the vicinity. More recent tactics expose the highly sophisticated apparatus which is behind this coup and capitalize on the collective memory of torture, disappearance and terror that were practiced here not very long ago.
POLICE STATE AND THE SUSPENSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
Executive Decree PCM-M-016-2009 eliminates freedom of speech and association, and allows police to enter private houses at will, without a warrant. In addition to giving police blanket authorization to attack and arrest anyone without cause, many of those arrested have been charged with sedition. Although Micheletti claimed to have lifted the decree prior to the negotiations, in actuality, it has remained in effect. Today there was an announcement that it had been revoked. Perhaps this time it may actually be more than a promise.
Three snapshots from culled from notes during a recent visit to Honduras, from the offices of COFADEH – Committee of Families of the Disappeared of Honduras – illustrate life under the current police state:
Agustina Caceres, a school teacher from La Esperanza , arrived at COFADEH after 21 days in prison. Agustina received the “Teacher of the Year” Award last year for excellence in teaching and is known for her community service with youth gangs. She was sitting on a curb, waiting for transport back to her hometown after the celebration in Tegucigalpa to celebrate Zelaya’s return, when police started beating her. They continued to beat her face after she was handcuffed. She was released from prison, after her teachers union posted over $5000 in bail, and is charged with sedition.
Four people arrived who had been arrested on August 12, the day of a large protests and heavy repression. Two had never been involved in political activity and had not attended the protest. One had attended the protest earlier that day and was then arbitrarily pulled off a bus with his sister and another person while on their way home much later. The fourth voiced protest from a distance about a young boy who was being beaten by the police which provoked her arrest. All were arrested and beaten with long night-sticks or metal poles. They were held in a room laying face down on the floor with arms cuffed behind their backs. Police came by and deliberately stepped on their exposed toes. They were held for nine days. All have been charged with sedition though no evidence has been presented. They are awaiting trial.
A woman from a Tegucigalpa barrio arrived with a small son who had been shot in the stomach. She went to file a police report and was told that the shooting was her own fault because of the state of siege she should not have let him out of the house.
In addition to generalized police repression against the entire population, there is an increase in selective intimidation, threats and assassination.
This week, union leader Jairo Sánchez, president of the SITRAINFOP union, finally died after having been shot in the face on September 24th. It is said that he was first thrown to the ground, and then fired on a point blank range. Early this morning (October 19), Elisio Hernandez, director of a rural school in Macuelizo and anti-coup activist, was also murdered.
Because of the increased incidence of violence and intimidation many people who have been involved in the resistance are leaving the country or going into hiding internally.
The forced and violent closure of independent national radio and TV stations (Radio Globo and Channel 36) has successfully cut off access to accurate information about what is really happening in Honduras. Three radio shows, which played once a week on a station owned by Ricardo Maduro (known to be sympathetic to the coup), were also suspended this past week.
Indirectly, these news outlets also served a coordination function for the resistance movement; assisting in the effort to conduct simultaneous actions in different parts of the country and notify people where and when repressive actions were being carried out.
In a country with large percentage of rural inhabitants and scarce access to internet, “Operation Silence” has dealt an effective blow to the resistance movement.
Today, the day when a new human rights mission sent by the UN began its work, Radio Globo was allowed to re-open, but with a gag order. It was also thought that Channel 36 would re-open.
SUDDEN ANNOUNCEMENT OF AN EARLY END TO THE SCHOOL YEAR
Social unrest and strikes since the coup have already resulted in major interruptions for public school students. This week, the government suddenly announced that the school calendar would be cut by one month. With less than one week of prior notice, classes were required to end on Friday October 16th and all school activities to end by October 30th – a full month before the school year normally ends.
This measure is understood as a move to demobilize teachers – an important sector of the resistance movement with a long history of struggle. Ending the school year early interrupts efforts which might emerge on the part of teachers to disrupt elections, as many of the polls are located inside of the schools. It also gives the army sufficient time to occupy the schools.
Previously the government has threatened reprisals against teachers who were participating in resistance activities. Teachers who are insisting on continuing the school year past the government cutoff are now being threatened for wanting to teach.
Although the regime may be enjoying short term success in suppressing the demand for restoration of Constitutional order, in the long term police state repression will not contain the huge numbers of people who will continue to struggle for economic and political justice.
Media hype to the contrary, the growing number of left wing governments being elected in Latin America is not the result of anything Hugo Chavez is doing, rather the efforts of people who are tired of poverty and social movement demanding change.
This week, for example, despite Micheletti’s iron clad crack down, the resistance scored a major goal. The Honduran Soccer team qualified for the World Cup. Soccer in Honduras is like baseball and football combined in the U.S.
Micheletti, anxious to take full advantage of this event, declared a national holiday and held a ceremony to honor the winning players with special medals. However, the captain of the team, Amado Guevara, refused to accept a medal from the illegitimate government and had his jersey smuggled inside the Brazilian Embassy to President Zelaya. Despite the media blackout, news of this open defiance of the dictator spread throughout the country. Later Amado Guevara denied that he had been involved in sending his jersey to the Embassy. Certainly the coup government found an effective way to threaten him, because his family is known to be vehemently anti-coup.
It is hard to predict where things are headed in Honduras. Unfortunately, the second deadline extension given by President Zelaya had not produced a negotiated settlement, rather another long weekend of suspended animation.
By late tonight, there was still no news of any agreement, just references by the coup government of the need to avoid placing a deadline on the negotiations. If Constitutional order is not restored quickly, a massive boycott of the elections is likely. Any candidate who chooses to remain in the race will be judged as illegitimate, leading to a further breakdown of order.
In this time of no time – the clock is running out.