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[en] MISF – Fear and Loathing in Honduras: Elections Under Repression

Fear and Loathing in Honduras: Elections Under Repression

May I Speak Freely Media
November 20, 2009

As Honduras’ Nov. 29 election day quickly approaches, the broader picture of whether the vote can truly be free and fair has so far escaped the attention of the U.S. government and much of the world’s mainstream press. While focusing on the terms of the Tegucigalpa-San José Accords, their compliance or lack thereof, and the seemingly two-dimensional Manuel Zelaya/Roberto Micheletti dispute over the country’s presidency, government and media observers alike have paid scant notice to the ongoing suppression of civil, constitutional and political rights of the dissenters, which seriously undermines any hope for an end to the political crisis, let alone an unfettered electoral process. As Bertha Oliva, director of the Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, testified in a Nov. 5 U.S. Congressional briefing, “Dialogue under repression isn’t dialogue … nor is dialogue that doesn’t recognize human rights.”
Free and fair?

International standards of free and fair elections, set out by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1994 and subsequently adopted by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2000 and the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, call for basic rights of political expression, movement within the country and an equal basis for campaigning of all parties. In an essay on the topic, Eric Bjornlund of Democracy International wrote, “The political environment should be free of intimidation.” On its face, these conditions don’t seem to be met in Honduras’ current political climate.

Honduran and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have expressed concerns over political repression and recognition of election results. Much of Latin America, including Brazil and Argentina, have announced they will not recognize the election results.

MISF has previously reported widespread media repression since the June 28 coup, including the September closure and seizure of assets of Radio Globo and Canal 36, two of the last independent opposition voices on air. The two stations have since resumed broadcasting, albeit with limited transmission capacity. Just today Reuters reported that Canal 36 news programming was interfered and prempted by cowboy movies.

MISF Associate Producer Oscar Estrada said that the stations are severely self-censoring, fearing a repeat of military reprisals. One Radio Globo journalist, Luis Galdámez, has persisted in criticizing the de facto government on his daily program “Behind the Truth,” and, according to Amnesty International, has been receiving death threats. On Nov. 19 it was reported that Canal 36’s broadcast signal was being interfered with and news programming replaced with cowboy movies.

The Honduran government on Oct. 5 issued a decree authorizing the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) to shut down any medium that calls for abstaining from the elections or that “incites hatred,” which, according to Estrada, is widely taken as code for speaking against the state. While Conatel hasn’t yet enforced the decree, Reina Rivera, director of the Honduran NGO Center for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (Ciprodeh), said she expected it will in the immediate run-up to election day.

Privation of civil liberties has also been reported by MISF. A Sept. 27 emergency decree restricting free speech, assembly and movement—all critical aspects of a free electoral cycle—which de facto president Micheletti had promised to annul, wasn’t repealed until Oct. 25, a few days before the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord was reached. That the decree has largely been replaced by more focused decrees issued by individual ministries much to the same effect.

In addition to the Conatel decree, the national police have issued a resolution, a demonstrably illegal act, that any march or protest requires 24 hours’ notice and permission from the police. In practice, however, this policy has only applied to leftist and independent candidates, for whose events the police are the first—and, as a consequence, last—to show up.

Another decree, issued by the Security Ministry, classifies as terrorism any takeover of public space by the resistance and the use of loudspeakers. To date, several leftist political rallies, which by necessity use sound systems, have been charged in this manner.

The dissolution of any agreement on the return to power of the deposed Zelaya—a precondition to election participation given by the Resistance Front Against the Coup and the popular independent candidate, union leader Carlos H. Reyes—has resulted in the effective disenfranchisement of the opposition in the elections. Reyes has officially withdrawn from the race and the Front, as have 102 of the 128 Innovation and Unity Party congressional and mayoral candidates, as well as a faction of Zelaya’s (and Micheletti’s) majority Liberal Party.

Many leftist organizations and Zelaya himself consider the election hopelessly unfair, have called for its boycott and have begun a process to legally contest and postpone voting.

On Nov. 17, Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí announced that the 530 prosecutors of the Public Ministry will be actively seeking out and cracking down on anyone who commits “electoral crimes,” such as impeding the voting process, urging people to not participate, or destroying political propaganda, all of which will be punishable with a four-year prison sentence. The practical effect of these strictures is to further stifle opposition voices by stripping them of the one recourse they had left.

The international justice organization CEJIL reported to the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Nov. 10 about persecution and retaliation against judges and public defenders who have expressed opposition to the coup. “The acts against these officials are an illegal restriction of their rights and an intimidation tactic to silence their voices and those of the thousands of people who oppose the regime,” said Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of CEJIL.

Honduras rights advocate and former independent slate candidate Berta Cáceres, speaking with the Chilean publication El Clarín, noted that the Electoral Tribunal has engaged the military—the same body that has been illegally arresting, beating up and even killing members of the coup opposition—to supervise the balloting. She said whoever is elected on Nov. 29 will represent a “golpista” government.

Explaining an increasingly widely held view within the country, MISF’s Estrada said, “All the parties have begun to sound like one because [the military,] under its doctrine of national security, runs the country, and will continue to run the next government.”

Ciprodeh’s Rivera said reports are already coming in of heavy militarization in certain remote areas known for being armed, and she fears armed conflict. Ulises Sarmiento, a Liberal Party candidate for deputy in Olancho province and a strong resistance advocate, was attacked Nov. 18 by at least eight men armed with heavy weaponry and grenades. Two of his security detail, Delis Noé Hernández, 27, and José Manuel Beltrán, 35, were killed in the attack.

According to both Estrada and Rivera, the election has stoked fears among Hondurans on both the right, who fear unrest in the streets and the implementation of Hugo Chavez-style populism, and the left, who fear massive, possibly armed repression, and the legitimization of the coup through the voting process.
U.S. recognition

The United States has not only not made any acknowledgement of such apparently unjust and illiberal electoral conditions, but is indicating support for the election and recognition of its outcome.

As a primary broker in the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, the U.S. State Department initially seemed to be riding to the rescue in a last-ditch effort to reinstate Zelaya to power preceding the elections. However, when it became evident that Honduras’ Congress was not going to make a timely decision on Zelaya’s restitution and when Micheletti unilaterally formed the unity government, the United States insisted that the accord was still in force, indicating at a press conference on Nov. 6—a day after the deadline to reinstate Zelaya—that it would likely still recognize the election.

While this statement seemed to confuse many, it is clearly the official State Department position, since Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, echoed them a couple days earlier on CNN en Español, where he stated, “The future of Honduran democracy is in Hondurans’ [Congressional] hands,” answering affirmatively a question about recognizing the elections, no matter what transpires.

An end to the crisis?

Both Honduras and the United States want to see an end to the crisis, which is unlikely to come with the election. According to Estrada, “This will end one of three ways: by means of a patent campaign of terror that decapitates all the populist organizations; by way of an accord that brings about genuine constitutional reform; or, the third option, war.”

According to Estrada and Rivera, the election has stoked fears among Hondurans on both the right, who fear unrest in the streets and the implementation of Hugo Chavez-style populism, and the left, who fear massive, possibly armed repression, and the legitimization of the coup through the voting process.

For more information

Berta Oliva (COFADEH) Gives Testimony at Congressional Briefing sponsored by Rep. Grijalva D-AZ.” Quixote Center, November 12, 2009.

Bjornlund, Eric. “Free and Fair Elections.” Democracy International.

Casasús, Mario. “Bertha Cáceres: ‘El pueblo busca estrategias para el desconocimiento de las elecciones en Honduras.‘” El Clarin, November 11, 2009.

Con 530 fiscales perseguirán los delitos electorales: Rubi.” El Tiempo, November 17, 2009.

Entrevista Thomas Shannon en CNN 04-Nov.” YouTube.

Honduran channel says de facto govt blocks signal.” Reuters, November 20, 2009.

Honduras: Honduran radio journalist fears for his life: Luis Galdámez.” Amnesty International, Novermber 16, 2009.

IACHR concludes its 137th period of seessions.” Organization of American States, November 13, 2009.

Parks, James. “Trumka: Free Elections Not Possible Now in Honduras.” AFL-CIO Now Blog, November 16, 2009.

Poder Judicial persigue a jueces opuestos al golpe.” VosElSoberano, November 14, 2009.

U.S. Department of State. “Daily Press Briefing.” November 6, 2009.

U.S. Department of State. “Daily Press Briefing.” November 18, 2009.

Zelaya Rosales, Manuel. “Carta Presidente Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales al Presidente Obama.” November 14, 2009.

Zelaya to legally contest Honduras elections.” Agence France Presse, November 18, 2009.

Honduran channel says de facto govt blocks signal.” Reuters, November 20, 2009.

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About: Founded in 2001, May I Speak Freely Media (MISF) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting social change through media. Twenty-five years after the Honduran military, with support from the United States, committed brutal human rights abuses against its citizens, MISF Media is working with human rights advocates, international NGOs and grassroots organizations to document rights abuses and justice efforts in Honduras, help victims tell their stories, raise public awareness, and prevent the repetition of past U.S. foreign policy mistakes. Offering journalism, historical records, and other educational material, www.mayispeakfreely.org serves as a resource for policy makers, rights advocates, academics, journalists, activists and the general public. MISF Media is a fiscally sponsored nonprofit project of Media Island International, Olympia, Wash.

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[en] video: Honduran Voices Call for Deep Democracy, by Matt Schwartz

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[en] Rights Action: Day 132 of Honduras Coup Resistance – Failure of “Guaymuras Accords”

Day 132 of HONDURAS COUP RESISTANCE – FAILURE OF “GUAYMURAS ACCORDS”
(November 6, 2009, Honduras Coup Alert#87)

(131st day of peaceful resistance to the coup regime. Photo, Karen Spring, November 5, 2009, Tegucigalpa)

BELOW:

  • COPINH (Civic council of popular and indigenous organizations of Honduras) analyses the failed “Guaymuras Accords”
  • CPTRT (Center for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture) summary report on use of torture by oligarchic-military regime

TO DONATE FUNDS – SEE AT BOTTOM

Please continue to financially support the pro-democracy, anti-coup movement in Honduras.  This extraordinary struggle, to defeat the oligarchic-military regime and to remake their constitution and country, will continue well into 2010.

VIEW The Real News

“Nothing resolved in Honduras: Widely-celebrated, US-brokered agreement looks to have strengthened coup instead of reversing it”: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=4431

HUMAN RIGHTS DELEGATION TO HONDURAS, November 24–December 1, 2009

Consider joining a Rights Action delegation to Honduras.  For information: Grahame Russell, info@rightsaction.org, 1-860-352-2448

FOR INTERVIEWS & MORE INFORMATION

* * *

COPINH – CIVIC COUNCIL OF POPULAR AND INDIGENOUS ORGANIZATIONS OF HONDURAS
The indigenous-campesino organization COPINH denounces the “Guaymuras Accords”

In the face of the signing of the accords to seek a solution to the crisis generated by the military coup d’etat against the people of Honduras, COPINH emits the following communiqué:

1. We have no trust in the negotiating commission of the coup regime, given that they have never demonstrated a willingness to reinstate the constitutional president of the republic.  Its only purpose is to buy time to consolidate the objectives of the coup d’etat in looting the national treasury and imposing neoliberal projects of privatization of natural resources and state institutions.

2. We denounce the malicious and intentional attitude of the government of the United States of America, that takes ambiguous positions but, behind the scenes, has supported the coup-makers and, if not, how can they explain that in the kidnapping of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales they used the [U.S. military’s Honduran] Palmerola base?  If the yankees had so much political will to contribute to the resolution of this crisis, why so much tolerance, patience and complacency with the coup-makers in lending themselves to a dialogue where they present deceiving agreements as a solution?

3. We call out people not to rest until we achieve the convoking of a popular and democratic national constitutional assembly, which should be made up of the different social sectors of the country such as women, feminists, youth, indigenous and black peoples, workers, the LGTB community, community councils, representatives of marginalized neighborhoods, teachers, artists, peasants, honest business people, intellectuals, professionals, the informal economy sector, alternative media, among others.

4. We urge the National Front of Popular Resistance to raise an initiative of dialogue and negotiation towards more dignified agreements in which the mediation shouldn’t be to the liking and oversight of the yankee government, which has helped drive the coup d’etat against our people, but instead by people like Rigoberta Menchu, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, democratic countries that make up the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) and UNASUR, foundations like the Carter Foundation, social movements of the countries of Latin America and the world like the Landless Peoples Movement of Brazil, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo of Argentina, the Scream of the Excluded, Jubilee South, the Convergence of Popular Movements of the Americas, the School of the Americas Watch, the platforms of solidarity with the Honduran people and others.

For this the front should name a negotiating commission that understands that the coup-makers are perverse and that the State Department, the Pentagon and the U.S. government in general are driving the coup d’etat and proposing, as key points, the restitution of the President of the Republic Manuel Zelaya Rosales to govern for the time that the coup-makers robbed of his governing period, the installation of a national constitutional assembly and the dissolution of the coup congress, of the coup supreme court, of the coup public ministry, the reduction and purging of the armed forces, the definitive purging of the national police and the punishment of the people involved in the coup d’etat and the violation of human rights.

5. We urge once again to the candidates of the Democratic Unification Party, the Popular Independent Candidacy, the PINU party and the Liberals, who are in resistance, to be consistent and renounce, once and for all, participation in the electoral farce set up by the coup-makers.  To our people we urge you not to participate in the electoral circus and to boycott that act of the coup-makers.

6. To the international solidarity we invite you to strengthen the support to the Honduran people not just as a principle of solidarity but for reasons of self-defense since if the coup-makers consolidate in Honduras the democratic spring of the peoples of the world and particularly the peoples of our America will end.

With the ancestral force of Lempira, Iselaca, Mota and Etempica we raise our voices filled with life, justice, dignity, freedom and peace.

HERE NOBODY IS GIVING UP / AQUI, NO SE RINDE NADIE

* * *

INTRODUCTION TO CPTRT’S RECENT REPORT DETAILING THE USE OF TORTURE BY THE COUP REGIME

By the CPTRT (Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families).  Complete report in Spanish:  http://www.cptrt.org/pdf/Tortura_Represion_Sistematica_GolpeEstado.pdf.  Translated by Patricia Adams of the Quixote Center, www.quixote.org)

The political military coup in Honduras, which took place on June 28, 2009, has special characteristics … .

The first component is the participation of the old followers of the National Security Doctrine that have continued practicing torture with impunity since the 80’s and who are the principle military and police advisors of the de facto regime.

The second component is the strategy of low intensity conflict, psychological torture, state terrorism, total suspension of constitutional guarantees, the state of siege and the presence of national and international hired assassins.

The third element is that the coup is taking place in the country where one of the most important US military bases exists [Palmerola, 40 minutes north of Tegucigalpa, the capital city] and where international military trainings and maneuvers occur frequently.

The fourth element is the alliance of economic, media, political, judicial, and religious powers in the country, that openly denies the coup, referring to it as a ‘constitutional succession.’ An alliance which also proclaims and justifies this military coup in the name of the law of God, peace, and democracy, all while keeping silent about murders, torture, and human rights violations.

The fifth component is the condemnation of the coup as a military coup, by almost 100% percent of the world’s countries, with the exception of United States, which condemns it as a coup but does not consider it to have been military in nature.

The sixth component is that the coup is considered as being not only against Zelaya but against the entire people of Honduras, and is a threat to the stability of some Latin American governments.

The seventh component is the existence of the popular response by the National Resistance Front Against the Military Coup, which has been protesting continuously for more than 120 days, despite the massive repression by brutal military and police force, the use of toxic gases, chemical weapons, intense noises, murders, persecution, political imprisonment and massive use of torture.

The eighth component is that the coup has occurred in the context of an electoral process which censors and gags the freedom of expression, in which the de facto government has fierce control of more than 90% of the communications media, and through which a variety of media outlets and journalists were militarized and repressed, including Radio Globo, Cholusat Sur, Diario Tiempo, Canal 11, Radio Progreso and the newspaper El Libertador.

The ninth element in that candidates from the opposition parties for the upcoming presidential, congressional, and mayoral elections have been subjected to torture, to being followed, to violent trauma and to murder. These facts are indicators of the restrictions on freedom and the civil and political rights of an electoral campaign process.

The tenth component is a 60% increase in femicide, the violations of the rights of trans-gender people, as well as the persecution and racism against the indigenous and the Garífunas. In this context, it is especially important to mention that since the sixth of October of 2009, 12 people affiliated with the Lenca indigenous organization COPINH have sought political asylum inside the Guatemala Embassy, that Augustina Flores, sister of COPINH leader Berta Caceres, was tortured by the police forces, and that the Lenca resistance leader Antoio Leiva was murdered.

Additionally, on the 21st of October, Day of the Forces that are Armed against the people, the criminal policies of the de facto regime resounded clearly when the repressive forces of the Direction of Criminal Investigation were ordered to break in, terrorize and silence the language and culture of our brothers and sisters of Radio Flumabimeto and Radio Duruugubuty, radio stations of the Garífuna peoples in the regions of Triunfo de la Cruz and San Juan, in the Bay of Tela, terrorizing 46 communities.

The murder of leaders of the teachers movements has been another characteristic of this military coup: Roger Vallejo, Martín Rivera, Mario Fidel Contreras, and Eliseo Hernández, as well as Jairo Sánchez, the President of the Union of INFOP Workers (SITRAINFOP), who was shot and eventually died from the wounds he sustained.

Lastly, we wish to point out the enormous risk of human rights defense work: our staff has been threatened, followed, and shot at, and their phone lines have been tapped and cut.  We are grateful for the international solidarity and support and for our organization, particularly we are thankful for the Research Centre for Torture (RCT DANIDA).  This report is a product of team work and the vocation to ethical and responsible service of the CPTRT.

We also take this opportunity to publicly recognize all the human rights organization, national and international, who are against the military coup.

Juan Almendares
Executive Director of the CPTRT

RISE IN REPORTS OF TORTURE AND CRUEL, INHUMAN AND DEGRADING TREATMENT

Tegucigalpa November 2, 2009: The CPTRT reports that the number of cases of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading (TCID) treatments has risen at an alarming rate and has become of means of political repression in the wake of the coup d’etat.

Throughout these four months, the CPTRT alone has registered 475 cases of torture and TCID. Nonetheless, it is estimated that the number of total cases in considerably higher given the tendency of under-reporting for fear of reprisal or lack of trust in the judicial system.

Between 2007 and the first half of 2009, CPTRT saw an average of 2.5 cases of torture each month, compared with 118.75 cases per month in the current context.

The majority of victims of torture seen by CPTRT have been protestors that have shown a serious opposition to the coup, although members of Congress, advocates of the 4th ballot box process, and journalists have been targeted as well.

[Translators note: The possible presence of a 4th ballot box was the subject of the non-binding survey President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya tried to carry out on June 28th 2009, the day of the coup d’etat. If the results of the non-binding survey would have been positive, Zelaya could have used them to back his proposal to Congress for the presence of a 4th ballot box in the November general elections. If the Congress approved the presence of the 4th ballot box, the Honduran people would have been able to vote for the creation of a Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new Constitution.]

The torture has been physical, psychological, and sexual and has been almost exclusively committed by the police and military. The torture has included both traditional and new methods, such as viscous blows to the body and throat, burns via the application of lit cigarettes to the body and genitals, use of gas, deprivation of water and food, humiliation, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, the threat of death, the threat of disappearance, and the threat of the use of electric shock, among others.

GIVEN THE ABOVE, CPTRT:

Demands that the Honduran state investigate, pursue and penalize those responsible for the crimes of torture and TCID, and demands that attention, reparation, and restitution be provided to the victims.

Offers the reminder that torture is a crime against humanity that is not subject to a statute of limitations and that the passage of time does not make impossible either investigation of the crimes nor penalty of those responsible.

Offers the reminder that the prohibition of torture is an obligation that Honduras assumed on a national level through the Constitution, and through the ratification of international instruments like Convention on Torture, among others.

CPTRT states that the defense of human rights in the country has become a high risk activity for its staff, which has been threatened continuously through intimidation, being fired upon, followed, and threatened. Therefore, CPTRT urges the international community to undergo pertinent actions to protect the life of defenders and also makes a special call to the representatives of the EU to apply the European Guidelines of Human Rights Defenders.

* * *

FUNDS NEEDED to support organizations and people working on human rights issues and with the National Front Against the Coup.  Make your tax-deductible check to “rights action” and mail to:

UNITED STATES:  Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
CANADA:  552-351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8
CREDIT-CARD DONATIONS:  http://rightsaction.org/contributions.htm

For foundations and institutional donors, Rights Action can (upon request) provide a full proposal of which organizations and people we are channeling funds to and supporting.

WATCH A 2-PART “FAULT LINES” NEWS REPORT ABOUT HONDURAS:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYY4vj9ROC0&feature=player_embedded
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upMu_oR2YUU&NR=1

FOR INTERVIEWS & MORE INFORMATION:
In Honduras, Karen Spring, 011-504-9507-3835, spring.kj@gmail.com
In USA, Grahame Russell, 860-352-2448, info@rightsaction.org

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[en] DeMint: Administration Commits to Recognize Honduran Elections


Commentary accompanying the press release on Republican Senator Jim DeMint’s own website: “Senator secures commitment for U.S. to back Nov. 29 elections even if Zelaya is not reinstated.”

Commentary from a Honduras solidarity activist involved with the Latin American Solidarity Network in Toronto: “This is what a cool half a million can buy in the US when you hire a high powered lobby firm, the Cormac Group, run by a former aide to Senator McCain and also connected to Hilary C.”

###

November 5, 2009 – WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced he has secured a commitment from the Obama administration to recognize the Honduran elections on November 29th, regardless of whether former President Manuel Zelaya is returned to office and regardless of whether the vote on reinstatement takes place before or after November 29th. Given this commitment, which Senator DeMint has requested for months, he will lift objections on the nominations of Arturo Valenzuela to be Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Thomas Shannon to be U.S. Ambassador to Brazil.

“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections,” said Senator DeMint. “Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”

“My goal has always been to work with the administration to get the policy on the Honduran elections reversed. Now that this goal has been achieved, I will lift my objections to the two nominations.

“This marks an important step forward for the brave people of Honduras. They are proving, despite crushing hardship and impossible odds, that freedom and democracy can succeed anywhere people are willing to fight for it.

“The independence, transparency, and fairness of their elections have never been in doubt. And now, thanks to the Obama Administration’s welcome reversal, the new government sworn into office next January can expect the full support of the United States and I hope the entire international community.”

“I trust Secretary Clinton and Mr. Shannon to keep their word, but this is the beginning of the process, not the end. I will eagerly watch the elections, and continue closely monitoring our administration’s future actions with respect to Honduras and Latin America.”

###

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[en] Rick Kearns: Indigenous Hondurans Face Persecution and Great Risk after Coup

Mujeres indigenas Lencas, presentes en la Resistencia. Foto: Sandra Cuffe

By Rick Kearns, Today correspondent

Story Published on Indian Country Today: Oct 23, 2009

The coup government of Honduras is severely repressing opposition, curtailing constitutional rights, allowing excessive police violence which could be linked to several deaths, beatings and disappearances.

Those leaders are engaged in the seizing of media outlets across the country and persecution of indigenous peoples, particularly those involved in the almost daily protests according to two groups of international human rights observers who conducted investigations in July and August.

The most recent report came from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the hemispheric Organization of American States. The report, published Aug. 22, listed the following charges: “… repression imposed on protestors through the use of military patrols, the arbitrary applications of curfews, detentions of thousands of people; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and bad conditions of detention.

“Of particular gravity is the death of four persons and various other wounded people caused by firearms. An exhaustive investigation into these deaths is necessary, considering that the commission has received information that could link these deaths with actions by agents of the government.”

The observers interviewed hundreds of Hondurans – including indigenous peoples. Those interviewed ranged from people with charges of abuse as well as officials of various levels of government, including representatives of the coup leadership. The two reports also noted the flow of information had been controlled by order of the coup government. In their press statement, the IACHR made special note of that issue.

“The control of information is exercised through the temporary closing of some communication media, the military occupation of those same media, the prohibition of emitting broadcasts about the coup by certain television stations during that time, the selective cutting of electrical services to audio-visual media that were reporting on the coup and aggressions and threats against journalists with different editorial positions.”

The IACHR said military squads occupied schools and universities during and after the time of the coup. The IACHR and the International Observation Mission of the Situation of Human Rights in Honduras – which conducted its investigation a few weeks before the commission – noted that among those interviewed were indigenous peoples. One of the mission observers spoke about how the coup was negatively affecting many Native people.

The overall situation of indigenous people in Honduras after the coup is “precarious and very risky” according to Marcia Aguiluz who participated in the mission that included 15 “independent professionals” from 13 countries.

Aguiluz, a staff attorney for the Center for Justice and International Law, spoke about the indigenous Hondurans when visiting their Washington, D.C. office in August, after she had taken part in the International Observation Mission. CEJIL is an international human rights nonprofit agency that litigates human rights cases before the IACHR and recommends actions to be taken.

The mission team interviewed government officials, politicians, human rights advocates, union members, social movement members, indigenous leaders, journalists, the Honduran Attorney General, the director of the National Police and various demonstrators from across the country between July 17 and July 28. Mission participants included judges, attorneys, journalists, sociologists, political analysts and human rights experts from Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Spain, Nicaragua, Peru, Sweden and Uruguay.

In an Aug. 7 interview, Aguiluz spoke about some of their findings in regards to the problems confronting the indigenous people of Honduras.

“We held a meeting with the Front of Resistance against the Coup, which contains all of the diverse sectors and movements that oppose it (coup). In that meeting we spoke with Bertha Cáceres, director of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, one of the strongest indigenous organizations in the country. They are very involved in the struggle, principally because they feel they have never been heard or taken into account.

“With President Zelaya and his proposed referendum, the indigenous people saw a chance of becoming part of the decision making process in the country. Bertha said her wish was to ‘allow for the building of their concept of truth and justice’ which had been prohibited by the powerful classes of Honduras. Currently, their situation is precarious and very risky, many of them are being persecuted because they have protested against the coup, also they are under threat and due to their peaceful actions of resistance they have abandoned their homes, finding refuge in Tegucigalpa with the help of other organizations.”

In the final part of the interview Aguiluz urged the international community to “stay informed” and to understand that the coup had caused institutional damage to the country and that fundamental rights were being hurt as well.

“A large percentage of the population – including indigenous peoples – are being threatened by the de facto regime, who are impeding their ability to express themselves as well as repressing them and not protecting their rights. … In Honduras right now, the people are completely unprotected.”

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[en] Sandra Cuffe – ‘For the Love of My Country’: Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé, another Martyr from the Resistance of Northern Honduras

Sector López Arellano, Choloma, Cortés, Honduras
August 9th, 2009.

by Sandra Cuffe

Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé was 30 years old, married, and had two small children. He worked as an employee of the Municipality of Choloma. Together with friends and work colleagues, he participated in the resistance marches and activities against the coup from June 28th itself until his murder in the wee hours before dawn on Saturday, August 8th.

The young worker’s cadaver was found with a bullet wound in the nape of his neck and another wound to his thorax in an area known as La Platanera in the Lopez Arellano Sector of Choloma, Cortés department, Honduras. According to the forensic doctor, Figueroa was murdered at approximately one thirty in the morning on Saturday. His death, however, turned up in the Sunday newspaper not as political news, but in the violent ‘Incidents’ section as but one more nameless statistic among so many other daily murders in the region.

Upon hearing the news of Figueroa’s death, many people walked under the relentless sun along the dirt streets of the López Arellano Sector to the wake at the home of Figueroa’s parents. Even before his body was released from the judicial morgue of San Pedro Sula on Sunday, relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and resistance movement participants began arriving at the house to share the sorrow and express their solidarity with the grieving family.

Photos of Figueroa, smiling and full of life, hung on the walls.

Figueroa’s son was crying in his aunt’s arms, but when asked how old he was, he perked up enough to hold up four fingers on one hand before burying his face into his aunt’s shoulder.

Figueroa’s five-year-old daughter held out her hand in greeting and appeared ecstatic, as though people were filling the humble home for a party, instead of coming to bid farewell to her father, whose body rested in a coffin in the small living room.

“She says that her daddy is sleeping,” explained Figueroa’s mother, when asked what the children understood about the situation.

Between greetings and hugs from other women in the house where she raised her son, Figueroa’s mother spoke about how her son would sometimes go out with friends on weekend nights to set up a small vendor’s stand at soccer games and then have some fun before returning home on his friend’s motorcycle. Acquaintances had seen Figueroa close to midnight at a dance party, while others claimed to have seen him playing pool at around 12:30am in a local pool hall.

Known locally as an extremely dangerous area in the sector, the La Platanera is somewhat removed from the routes between the stadium, the dance party, the pool hall, and Figueroa’s house. His relatives confirmed that he never traveled through that area.

“They took him there because no one recognizes him there,” said Figueroa’s mother. “It wasn’t until later in the morning that someone who knew him passed by and came to tell us,” she explained.

Figueroa’s mother also explained that her son was not killed in the exact location where his body was found, but further down in that same area, where there was “a pool of blood,” she said. He was also found without his identification documents nor the yellow motorcycle he was riding the night of his murder.

The young Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé was the only member of his family to actively participate in the resistance movement against the coup. Sobbing, his mother expressed that everyone who knew him is asking why he was murdered, adding that he was a respectful worker who loved his family and his neighbours, and that he was not involved in any criminal or dubious activity.

The López Arellano sector is within the region with the highest murder rate in the country, in a sort of triangle between greater San Pedro Sula, Choloma, and El Progreso. This region with the greatest levels of violence, and also of femicide, coincides with the corredors of maquilas, factories, and tax-exempt Export Processing Zones (ZIPs), in which all kinds of clothing and other consumer goods are factory-made for export, mainly via the country’s principal port Cortés to the United States.

Despite Figueroa’s mother’s questioning of the motive of her son’s murder, one of his best friends asserted that many people have little doubt that Figueroa was killed because of his participation in the actions coordinated by the National Front in Resistance to the Coup, explaining that “since the 28th [of June] we have been there in the resistance – in San Pedro, in Choloma, in the marches, in everything we were there together.”

At two in the afternoon, a funeral mass was held in a local church that same Sunday, August 9th. There were not enough chairs for the throngs of people who attended, and thus many stood along the walls and even outside the church doors.

“Sometimes, we ask ourselves: Why the violence? Sometimes we ask ourselves why he was murdered in this way,” the priest preached.

“This murder was carried out to send a clear message to the people in this sector and in the northern region in general,” remarked a human rights activist and active participant in the resistance movement who attended the funeral in solidarity with Figueroa’s family.

“They are not killing well-known leaders from the Frente or organizations, but instead workers, farmers and teachers who are not well known but who have been actively participating in the resistance,” she explained. “Murdering individuals with whom ordinary people can identify is a clear counterinsurgency tactic to terrorize the population. Furthermore, because of the age of most of the martyrs, the murderers are demonstrating more and more clearly that they view the widespread participation of youth – the majority in this country – as a serious threat.”

Upon leaving the church after the funeral at around three in the afternoon, a friend of Figueroa’s approached with more news. Neighbours had reported that during the wake that same morning, armed men on a motorcycle had been driving back and forth along the street in front of the home of Figueroa, his wife, and their two small children.

Furthermore, Figueroa’s friend explained that neighbours of the area where Figueroa was murdered had already been talking about unknown men on two motorcycles chasing someone through the area at about one in the morning the same night of the murder. According to the second-hand testimonies, the man being chased stopped and shouted that his pursuers could take his motorcycle without a problem, because he would not resist.

“It’s not the chopper we want. It’s you we want,” said his pursuers, according to the neighbours’ testimonies.

“Around here, nobody sees anything – you know, out of fear,” clarified Figueroa’s friend, when asked about the description of the men and the motorcycles. “It may be that people tell of things they have heard during the night, but nobody sees anything…”

The wind blew through the dusty streets, bringing cool relief to the congregation of people getting ready for the funeral procession to Figueroa’s burial in a local cemetary. Many women were crying as they left the church, while the men seemed to attempt to distract themselves from the cries and hugs. As always, the smallest children played and laughed, bringing smiles to the faces of those watching them.

Sitting on the sidewalk outside the church, a local leader of an organization involved with the National Front in Resistance against the Coup in Honduras was talking to someone on his cell phone about the murder, about the ongoing death threats he himself received, and about the thousands of people participating in week-long resistance marches that were nearing the two main cities in the country. It became evident that he had been asked why he and so many thousands of people continued in resistance when they were being met with such strong repression by the de facto government.

“Well, first of all, because I love my country…”

# # #

This article was originally published in Spanish on August 9, 2009. At the request of Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé’s family, no photographs were taken. Similarly, out of consideration for both privacy and security, no person has been directly named except for Figueroa himself, considering that both his murder and his participation in the resistance to the coup are already public knowledge.

Sandra Cuffe is an independent journalist and photographer from Canada. She lived in Honduras from 2003 to 2007 and returned to the country on July 3, 2009. She is currently a contributing member of the Dominion (Canada), a contributor to Upside Down World (USA), a correspondent for Defensores En Linea (Honduras), and maintains a bilingual blog: http://HondurasSolidarity.wordpress.com

# # #

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[en] Tom Loudon – Honduras: A Time of No Time

Detail from a painting in the COFADEH office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo: Sandra Cuffe

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.

“OPERATION SILENCE”

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.

* Tom Loudon is currently in Honduras, working with the Quixote Center, www.quixote.org, toml@quixote.org

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