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[en] Jennifer Moore: ‘What is Minister Kent Waiting for?’

Honduran First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya argues with Honduran army Coronel Ayala at the Arenal military-police blockade. El Paraiso, July 24, 2009. Photo: Sandra CuffeHonduran First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya argues with Honduran army Coronel Ayala at the Arenal military-police road blockade the night of July 24th, 2009. Hundreds of Hondurans were detained for days at various blockades along the highway to the Las Manos border crossing with Nicaragua, where elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya Rosales attempted to re-enter the country for a second time since the June 28th military coup. Photo: Sandra Cuffe, http://flickr.com/photos/lavagabunda

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‘What Is Minister Kent Waiting for?’

As beatings and killings mount in Honduras, President Zelaya’s wife joins critics of Canada’s approach.

By Jennifer Moore

http://thetyee.ca/News/2009/08/21/KentWaiting/

Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Peter Kent has repeatedly urged
“restraint” until a negotiated solution can be achieved regarding the
return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya to Honduras. He has said that
Zelaya was subject to an illegal coup, but suggests that if he were to
return too soon there would be an outbreak in violence. But more than
seven weeks since the coup, human rights violations are mounting in
the democratically-elected leader’s absence.

First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, during an interview with The Tyee
last week, showed the back door of her Tegucigalpa home that was shot
at sixty times on the morning of June 28 when military officers hauled
President Zelaya away in his pyjamas to Costa Rica. She also spoke
with dismay about repression against protesters and the lack of
medicine in hospitals for people who have been beaten or shot by
police.

Human rights violations mount

Most recently, last week, police and military brutally repressed
demonstrations calling for the return of Zelaya. On Wednesday, August
12, armed forces cracked down on a protest in front of the National
Congress building where legislators were debating if they would
reinstate obligatory military service or not. International observers
and press watched as police chased protesters and beat men, women and
youth. Various testimonies indicate that they attacked people who had
not even been participating. Police were also photographed hitting a
reporter who had been filming the protest.

Dozens were detained and sent to various police dispatches across the
capital city. Most notably, a group of people, many bleeding or
otherwise injured, were taken to a post belonging to the Special
Police Forces, called COBRAs. In the 1980s, their headquarters were
associated with numerous cases of disappearances and torture.

Later the same day, hundreds of soldiers and police locked down the
Pedagogical University, which became a virtual holding cell for dozens
of people who were forced to give declarations as a result of Molotov
cocktails that had been found on location. Strangely, the lock-down
occurred after those inside had already reported the presence of
home-made explosives to a public attorney.

Other organizations also came under attack. The offices of a farmer’s
organization and a union hall belonging to groups integrally involved
in the opposition to the coup were shot at during the night. In one
case, the shooting took place after curfew, at which time only police
and military are permitted to be in the streets.

In this context, and in response to Kent’s position to keep urging
patience on the part of Hondurans, the First Lady exclaims, “How can
this not be the moment to restore constitutional order and respect of
this people? How can it not be the moment to restore democracy to my
country?”

Negotiations drag on

But Kent has remained hopeful in ongoing negotiations led by Costa
Rican President Oscar Arias.

Negotiations began in early July, despite that fact that they help
legitimate the de facto government and go against the spirit of a July
5th OAS Declaration which demands Zelaya’s return “so that he may
fulfill the mandate for which he was democratically elected.”
President Arias presented the current proposal, called the San José
Accord on July 22. Zelaya has accepted the agreement even though it
strips him of power and provides amnesty for political crimes taking
place before and after his ouster. Coup leader Roberto Micheletti
Bain, however, has so far refused.

Since August 5, Hondurans have been anticipating the visit of an OAS
Commission in which Kent is expected to participate and which is meant
to pressure Micheletti to concede to Arias’ proposal. But the high
level visit has yet to happen.

Meanwhile, violence and human rights violations have been racking up
and Kent has failed to take his own advice.

In a July 19 statement, the Minister said, “We call on all parties to
condemn any and all incitement to violence in this ongoing crisis and
to respect the right of Hondurans to peace, order and good
governance.”

To date, around 10 assassinations have been registered in relation to
the coup. There have also been various attacks on the press, thousands
of arbitrary arrests, about 150 documented cases of mistreatment or
abuse, and at least one young man who is the son of a long-time social
activist has been missing for more than a month. Human rights
organizations in Honduras are also questioning who is responsible for
roughly 100 assassinations that have taken place during curfew.

Kent has not issued another official statement since July 24, and has
not condemned these incidents. Nor has he suggested, considering
Micheletti’s intransigence, that Canada could take further measures to
pressure the de facto leader to accept any negotiated agreement.

Back to the ’80s

Independent Presidential Candidate Carlos H. Reyes, whose hand is
severely fractured after being struck by police and falling from a
five-meter high wall during a march two weeks ago, thinks that Kent
has things backwards when the Minister suggests that Zelaya’s return
will lead to violence. “Those using repression and violence are not
the protesters,” he states.

“Your minister of foreign relations is poorly informed,” says Reyes,
also president of the Bottling Workers Union (STIBYS, by its initials
in Spanish). “The disinformation is so great at the moment that even
our cardinal of the Catholic Church in Honduras has said that if
Zelaya returns that there would be blood spilled. But whose blood?
Those who are governing? We are not armed.”

The repression and violence have been so intense that activists and
human rights advocates are seeing links with the past to a time when
government-supported death squads disappeared, tortured and murdered
hundreds of suspected leftists. Not only do they say that the degree
of repression is comparable, but they recognize many of the same
actors.

Micheletti’s security advisor is Billy Fernando Joya Améndola. Billy
Joya is recognized as a former operative of Batallion 3-16, a group of
military officers who received training at the School of the Americas,
and which is associated with hundreds of cases of kidnapping, torture
and murder. Joya himself has numerous unresolved charges, most notably
for the illegal detention and torture of six university students in
1982. He recently told the New York Times that, “The policy [in the
80s] was, ‘The only good Communist is a dead Communist,’ and ‘I
supported the policy.'”

However, the de facto government and most coverage by corporate media
presents Zelaya and opposition to the coup as representing the threat.
“They say that they’re investigating,” notes Reyes, “whether I or
another leader in the resistance is receiving money from
narco-trafficking, Chávez or the FARC.” The labour activist raises his
right arm to help stop the swelling in this hand, revealing bruising
all along the soft tissue of his upper arm. “The idea of a ‘red scare’
has not changed since the ’80s,” he says, when leftist activists were
supposedly receiving funding from Moscow.
He suggests that Kent’s position is off-base, and offers that he would
be happy to meet with him to clarify anything that the Minister might
like to know.

‘Waiting for another coup?’

“One makes the conditions, one doesn’t wait for them,” says Bertha
Oliva, Director of the Committee for the Families of the Detained and
Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH). “Positions like this do not help at
all.”

Not only has the delay in Zelaya’s return led to a rise in human
rights violations, the de facto government has also had time to
install its supporters throughout the state. Notably, she points out,
they are seeing a growing military or retired military presence in
public institutions.

She is also critical of negotiations with a coup government that the
international community has presumably not recognized. Beyond
conditions in the San José Accord that would leave Zelaya as a
decorative leader for the brief remainder of his term, she is
concerned about the possibility of an amnesty. For Oliva, who has been
working since the 1980s to ensure that those who were disappeared are
not forgotten and that their cases are not dropped, she says,
“Impunity is non-negotiable.”

Other critics of the delay in restoring Zelaya to the presidency raise
questions about why Minister Kent has not taken a tougher position.
They note that Canadian companies such as Gildan Activewear and
GoldCorp have important interests in the country, and it could be that
they were not pleased with the recent hike in the minimum wage or with
growing pressure for mining law reforms. If not, why has Canada not
withdrawn support for its Military Training Assistance Program or been
considering other economic sanctions that could help advance the
negotiation process? And why, some ask, has Canada not vigourously
condemned human rights violations taking place given Honduras’s
important position as the second largest recipient of Canadian aid
money in the Americas after Haiti?

First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya has questions of her own for
Minister Kent: “Is he waiting for another country to suffer a coup? Or
until they kill who knows how many people? He says it is not the right
moment. But this is not about President Zelaya. The President
represents the restoration of rights to the people.” His return, she
says, “is a mechanism to find peace and tranquility.”

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Jennifer Moore is a free-lance journalist covering Latin America. She has
previous reported for The Tyee on Ecuador and Canadian mining interests.

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