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Dr. Juan Almendares: The Biggest Embrace in History

Dionisia Diaz, the "Grandmother of the Resistance" in Tegucigalpa, September 23, 2009. Photo: Sandra Cuffe

Have you ever been inside an empty stadium? Try it sometime. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing emptier than an empty stadium. There is nothing more silent than the stands with nobody in them”. – Eduardo Galeano

For the last five centuries the West and the hegemonic power of multinational colonization have been stealing the essence of life and the aroma of our Honduran lands. They were violent centuries, with massacres of the first peoples. Centuries of immolation and lies, in the name of the cross, “the idea of civilization” and weapons. Centuries antagonistic to the dreams of Lempira, Morazán, Bolívar, Valle and Martí. Centuries of resistance in historic unity by the peoples of Our America.

We were prisoners in the mining and banana enclaves. Wealth at the expense of hunger and misery. The forests were cut down. The mahogany was used to beautify the mansions in Europe, and adorn the doors of the White House in Washington. Agribusiness, agri-combustibles and the loss of alimentary sovereignty increased the treasures of Wall Street, and international financial capital. Honduras was born during the decadence of the old world and the emergence of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. Invaded by marines and modern pirates, who sang in unison the chorus “In God We Trust” – in God and in the World Bank.

At the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, the 1954 banana workers’ strike took place. The army, guardians of the banana plantations, controlled by the Pentagon and the CIA, put an end to the workers’ movement and participated in the overthrow of the government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala.

In the 80s there is a military occupation of Honduras. The principal strategist, John Dimitri Negroponte, strengthened the National Security Doctrine. The disciples of the School of the Americas put into practice the torture and physical disappearance of people with the acquiescence of the state judicial apparatus.

Since 1956 until the present century, there have been: seven military coups, signifying seven plagues against national progress. The stigmas: “Banana Republic”, “Country for Rent” have injured the national soul. They are damned names that mask a history of crime, corruption and the negation of a people that have always struggled for liberation.

At the end of the 20th century we were hit by Hurricane Mitch; made worse by transnational financial capital that bribes the powers that be, sells territory to the mining companies, textile sweatshops, banana plantations, energy plants, that increase climatic injustice and social poverty.

Over all these centuries, of coups, blows, paquetazos and trancazos (economic packages and beatings), to the mother and fatherland, they have accumulated and assimilated their own experiences and those of other peoples. Unity is constructed in the honey of practice of the social being and in the hell of the condemned of mother earth.

We learn to reject the lies against the people and governments of Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the very government of Honduras presided over by Manuel Zelaya; because there is no bigger truth than the generous testimonies of unconditional solidarity in health, education, economy and transport; that we have received from these sister nations.

The Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) is the most concrete expression of human cooperation and fraternity in the face of the unequal trade agreements with the United States and Europe.

In the first decade of the 21st century, June 28th of 2009; the first political, economic and military coup in Latin America takes place, carried out by an armed, religious, political, ideological and media alliance of local powers in tandem with world imperialist powers.

The de facto regime celebrated its repressive power in the patriotic festivities of September 15th. The festivities reminded us of our infancy when we were forced to march in the parades. As children we were dressed in uniform and transformed into “infantry”. We gathered in the stadiums to be passive, tolerant listeners to the despot of the moment. These were like religious rites, football and military rituals, with their generals, captains, bishops, reverends and chaplains and somehow a bad imitation of the carnivals of New York or California.

The lead soldiers marched, the uniformed robots without their masks of crime, the tanks and the canons burned gun powder and shot false canon balls. The speeches were rusty and cheaply patriotic. They debuted maneuvers in F5 planes, the parachute show of a parachute government.

The aerial noise did not scare the vultures that share the misery of the children living in the garbage, vultures that fly making fun of the war planes. It was a Neronian circus with forced students and teachers, beaten and threatened. The horses and the cavalry greeted with honors their great perfumed chiefs in ties. The popular protest could never be heard in a sports stadium empty of all popular warmth.

The National Resistance Against the Military Coup marched challenging the de facto government; rejecting the electoral farce, demanding the return to constitutional order and of president Zelaya. The popular clamor was for a Constitutional Assembly, The Second Independence, and the re-founding of the State of Honduras.

Recognition was expressed of the solidarity of all the peoples and governments, social movements, parties, ecclesiastical communities, women´s organizations, gay groups, human rights organizations, social communicators, worldwide fast, Vía Campesina, Friends of the Earth of Latin America and International Friends of the Earth.

On September 15th millions of Hondurans marched against the military political coup. The popular joy announced a dawning of justice. The hummingbirds jumped for joy and bathed in the dew of the ALBA and savored the nectar of the dreams of liberation. The march was the Biggest Embrace in History, with which the people, poets of liberty, have become poets for all the people of the world.

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Filed under ENGLISH, human rights & repression, international solidarity, news & updates from Honduras

[en] IACHR: Preliminary Observations on the IACHR Visit to Honduras

http://www.cidh.org/Comunicados/English/2009/60-09eng.Preliminary.Observations.htm

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 21, 2009 — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today concluded its on-site visit to Honduras, which began on August 17, 2009. The purpose of the visit was to observe the human rights situation in the context of the coup d’état of June 28, 2009. The delegation was composed of the IACHR President, Luz Patricia Mejía; the First Vice President, Víctor Abramovich; the Second Vice President and Rapporteur for Honduras, Felipe González; Commissioner Paolo Carozza; and Executive Secretary Santiago A. Canton. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Catalina Botero, was also part of the delegation.

The IACHR requested the visit on June 30, 2009, received consent from the State on July 13, 2009, and came to an agreement with the President of the Supreme Court of Justice to conduct the visit. The preliminary observations presented today are based on information received before and during the visit. The Commission will prepare a final report that it will publish in the near future.

During the visit, the IACHR met with representatives of the de facto government and representatives of various sectors of civil society, and received more than one hundred individuals who presented complaints, testimony, and information. In Tegucigalpa, the delegation met with authorities of the three branches of government, human rights defenders, political and social leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and parents of families. On August 19, Commission delegations traveled to Tocoa, in the department of Colón, and to San Pedro Sula, in the department of Cortés, where they held meetings with representatives of civil society and local authorities. In Tocoa, the IACHR received more than 40 teachers, journalists, political leaders, and social leaders, and met with representatives of the police, the Army, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, as well as with local business owners and students. In San Pedro Sula, the Commission received more than 50 representatives of civil society organizations, met with members of the media, heard testimony from individuals injured during the suppression of demonstrations, and met with authorities from the municipality, the police, and the armed forces. On August 20, Commission delegations traveled to the towns of El Paraíso and Comayagua. In El Paraíso, meetings were held with civil society organizations and the mayor’s office, and testimony was received regarding the events of July 24-27, 2009, when a continual curfew was imposed for three days. In Comayagua, the IACHR received information about the events of July 30, 2009, when a demonstration was suppressed and nearly 150 people were detained for a period of 6 to 14 hours. The IACHR obtained this information by taking testimony from those affected and from witnesses, as well as from local police and Army authorities and the regional Office of the Public Prosecutor. The Commission thanks everyone who facilitated the organization of this visit.

* * *

On June 28, 2009, the IACHR condemned the coup d’état and the interruption of the constitutional order, and made an urgent call to restore the democratic order and to respect human rights, the rule of law, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. In addition, all the States of the hemisphere unanimously and immediately condemned the coup d’etat. The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) condemned the coup d’état, demanded the return of President Manuel Zelaya, and declared that no government that emerged from the institutional interruption would be recognized. On June 30, the OAS General Assembly gave the de facto government of Honduras a 72-hour deadline in which to restore President Zelaya to power, and on July 4, 2009, it suspended the State of Honduras from the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS.

The Supreme Court of Justice, the National Congress, and other Honduran actors have a different reading than that of the international community as a whole as to the legitimacy of the coup d’état, as they believe that the acts of June 28, 2009, were carried out with strict adherence to the Constitution. The Commission considers that even when there may be differences of opinion on this matter, the obligation to guarantee the rights of persons does not change, since this is incumbent at all times on all those who hold public power, regardless of any interpretation that may be made of the events of June 28, 2009.

The OAS General Assembly’s decision does not suspend the obligations Honduras acquired when it ratified the American Convention on Human Rights in 1977 and other inter-American human rights instruments, based on which the IACHR continues to observe the state of human rights in the country. In addition, in its July 4 resolution the OAS General Assembly specifically reaffirmed “that the Republic of Honduras must continue to fulfill its obligations as a member of the Organization, in particular with regard to human rights.” Moreover, Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter establishes that, in the case of a suspension from participation in the OAS, “The suspended member state shall continue to fulfill its obligations to the Organization, in particular its human rights obligations.”

Since June 28, 2009, the Commission has received numerous complaints about human rights violations in the context of the coup d’état. In all these cases, the Commission proceeded immediately to communicate with the State, based on the American Convention and the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. On June 28, the IACHR granted precautionary measures that were subsequently expanded on June 29; July 2, 3, 10, 15, 24, and 30; and August 7 and 17, 2009. These measures were intended to safeguard the life and physical integrity of a total of 106 individuals about whom the IACHR had received information indicating a situation in which there was an imminent risk of irreparable harm. The IACHR also requested information on four occasions, under Article XIV of the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons, with regard to the situation of five persons whose whereabouts had not been able to be established. Finally, the Commission also made various requests for information under Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights regarding such situations as the application of the decree to suspend guarantees, the use of the curfew, repression of public demonstrations, detentions of thousands of demonstrators, attacks against the communications media, harassment of journalists, and temporary shutdowns of media outlets by the Army.

The Commission’s communications were directed to the Office of the President of the Congress and the Office of the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, given the impossibility of addressing the constitutional President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Rodas. The Supreme Court of Justice provided information on the status of remedies of amparo, habeas corpus, and motions of unconstitutionality being processed, and asked the various jurisdictional bodies, security agencies, and the National Commission on Human Rights to provide information as to whether there was any pending complaint or request for a precautionary measure in favor of the beneficiaries.

With regard to the requests for information, based on Article XIV of the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons, the IACHR received information from the Supreme Court of Justice, from other State entities, and from civil society. Based on the information provided by the authorities, the Commission believes that the situation of three of the individuals has been cleared up, but the whereabouts of two persons have not yet been clarified. One of these individuals was seen for the last time at a demonstration held on July 12, 2009, and the other was allegedly kidnapped from her home on July 26, 2009.

Democratic Institutional System

Representative democracy is the form of political organization adopted explicitly by the OAS Member States. The OAS Charter establishes in its principles that “the solidarity of the American States and the high aims which are sought through it require the political organization of those States on the basis of the effective exercise of representative democracy.” Along these lines, the OAS Charter states that “representative democracy is an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region” and proclaims that one of the essential purposes of the Organization is to “promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention.” The process of creating mechanisms to strengthen democracy throughout the region was consolidated in September 2001 with the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which establishes: “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”

The Member States have expressed themselves explicitly on the close link between democracy and the observance of human rights. The Inter-American Democratic Charter reaffirms that “the promotion and protection of human rights is a basic prerequisite for the existence of a democratic society.” It states: “Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”

The Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have on many occasions made statements affirming that close link. In its Advisory Opinion 8, the Inter-American Court stated: “In a democratic society, the rights and freedoms inherent in the human person, the guarantees applicable to them and the rule of law form a triad. Each component thereof defines itself, complements and depends on the others for its meaning.” For its part, the Commission has indicated that the democratic system and the observance of the rule of law are critical for the effective protection of human rights and that, at the same time, the complete guarantee of human rights is not possible without the effective and unrestricted recognition of political rights.

Considering the interrelationship between democracy, the rule of law, and the observance of human rights, the IACHR considers that the coup d’état carried out through the removal of the constitutional President has an immediate impact on the observance of the rule of law and of human rights in Honduras. The Commission was able to verify during its visit that the interruption of the constitutional order brought about by the coup d’état has been accompanied by a strong military presence in various spheres of civilian life; the suspension of guarantees through the implementation of a curfew that does not meet the standards of the inter-American system; and the ineffectiveness of judicial remedies to safeguard people’s fundamental rights.

Along these lines, the Commission received information about the strong military presence in schools and at the National University, and the Army’s shutdown and occupation of television and radio channels during the coup d’état.

It is also of concern to the Commission that the Army has actively participated, along with the National Police, in controlling demonstrations. While under exceptional circumstances the armed forces may be called on to participate in controlling demonstrations, this exercise must be limited to the maximum extent, because the armed forces lack the necessary training to control internal disturbances. According to information received from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the military high command, the military forces participate under the command of the police forces, under a constitutional provision that allows such an arrangement. However, as the Inter-American Commission and Court have indicated, the use of force on the part of State security forces must be of an exceptional nature, and must be planned and limited proportionally by the authorities. It is also worth noting that the bodies of the inter-American human rights system have established previously that the States must limit to the maximum extent the use of the armed forces to control internal disturbances, since the training they receive is designed to destroy the enemy and not to protect and control civilians, which is the type of training police agencies typically receive.

The suspension of guarantees is provided for in Article 27 of the Convention as an exceptional mechanism for suspending the enjoyment and exercise of rights “in time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of a State Party.” However, for a suspension of guarantees to be legitimate, it must meet a series of requirements established in the Convention. The first of these requirements is that the suspension of guarantees be adopted by a government that exercises public power legitimately, within the context of a democratic society. Also, as the Inter-American Court has stated, “The suspension of guarantees lacks all legitimacy whenever it is resorted to for the purpose of undermining the democratic system. That system establishes limits that may not be transgressed, thus ensuring that certain fundamental human rights remain permanently protected.”

On June 28, Mr. Micheletti announced the beginning of the curfew during a press conference held at the National Congress, with no information as to the legal instruments on which this action was based. The timeframe established for the curfew was from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. for the two days following the takeover of power.

One of the grounds the de facto government invoked to restrict the rights of the people of Honduras was Decree No. 011-2009, which established a curfew beginning on June 30, 2009. Consequently, before any particular analysis on the State of Honduras’s compliance with human rights obligations, the Commission believes it is necessary to analyze the compatibility of the curfew decree with the American Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 27.

Decree 011-2009 established the curfew for a period of 72 hours, applicable between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Although this period expired on July 3, 2009, the curfew continued to be implemented for more than a month without any type of legal foundation. Thus, contrary to what is established in the Constitution, the state of exception was established by decree of the de facto government, for a shorter period of time than was implemented in practice, and without being published in the Official Gazette. The subsequent ratification by Congress and publication on July 27, 2009, does not right these original wrongs.

In accordance with Article 27 of the American Convention, the scope of the suspensions must be strictly necessary to relieve an emergency situation, and this implies limiting the scope of time and space, and the rights that are suspended. The Commission deems that, in the context of the coup d’état, curfews have been implemented since June 28, 2009, without justification as to their reasonableness or relevance to the situation that led to the state of exception. In particular, reference must be made to the events of July 5, 2009, when President Zelaya tried unsuccessfully to return to the country by air. The curfew established originally was in effect from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. However, at 6 p.m. it was announced on national television that the curfew would begin in half an hour and would last until 5 a.m. In addition, the discretionary way in which the curfews have been established is reflected in the lifting of the measure on July 12, 2009, and its resumption on July 15, 2009, with no justification of the causes that would warrant a new suspension of rights.

Even within a legitimate state of exception, each act of implementation must be reasonable, that is, it must be strictly appropriate for the occasion and the scope of the state of exception, without any type of discrimination. The IACHR has verified that during the implementation of the curfew, thousands of people were trapped between military roadblocks without justification. In addition, the curfew was not uniformly applied throughout the country, and in fact there was discriminatory enforcement of the restriction of the right to circulate. Thus, for example, the IACHR was able to confirm that in the town of El Paraíso some people were allowed, in a selective and discriminatory manner, to move about during the curfew.

This situation is aggravated by the absence of judicial control of the rules governing the state of exception. For five decades, the Commission has consistently underscored the foundational importance that, in a democratic society, there be judicial control of the acts of public power. During its on-site visit, the Commission received testimony consistent with a great deal of information it had received since June 28, 2009, indicating that the judicial remedies available in Honduras do not currently offer efficient and effective protection against human rights violations in the context of the coup d’état. The de facto government’s initial acts include a suspension of guarantees that has not been subject to judicial scrutiny, despite having been called into question by various motions of amparo. Under the current circumstances, the Commission deems that these actions should have received the highest priority.

The Commission has received similar information from all sectors to the effect that the majority of the habeas corpus actions presented to challenge detentions are rendered moot because the alleged victims have already been released. The Commission would like to stress the importance of resolving habeas corpus actions with utmost promptness in all cases. The Commission saw firsthand, for example, a place of detention consisting of three small cells in which between 80 and 100 people had been held for several hours. While the law allows for detentions within a 24-hour period, the Commission deems that the situation created by the detention of several dozen people should receive immediate attention. Moreover, the Commission has received testimony and information regarding the fact that some judges responsible for writs of habeas corpus have been mistreated, threatened, and intimidated so that they will not carry out their duties.

On another matter, the Commission has received consistent and repeated information confirming that, in many cases, the offices of public prosecutors have not begun official investigations into the existence of groups of people who have been injured and in custody. In the case mentioned in the previous paragraph, a number of those detained were injured and had previously been treated in hospitals, but the public prosecutor who visited them did not draw up a list. When asked to explain the situation, the Public Ministry indicated that the reason for this omission may have been that people do not trust the institution. The Commission deems that it is critically important for the Public Ministry to carry out its role regardless of the opinion or political affiliation of those who receive its services.

The deterioration of institutions without a doubt affects the regular functioning of Honduran society. One example is the information received by the IACHR indicating how children’s right to education has been affected. The Commission understands that these arguments arise in a context in which teachers, parents, and even those being educated hold conflicting opinions in an intense social debate. The genesis of the matter, the Commission believes, is that doors for democratic dialogue have been shut, which hinders a resolution of this conflict. The Commission will evaluate all the complaints it has received and will report on its conclusions in the near future.

Violations of Human Rights

Along with the loss of institutional legitimacy brought about by the coup d’état, which affects the regular functioning of democratic institutions, during its visit the Commission confirmed a pattern of disproportionate use of public force, arbitrary detentions, and the control of information aimed at limiting political participation by a sector of the citizenry. The Commission confirmed the use of repression against demonstrations through the placement of military roadblocks; the arbitrary enforcement of curfews; the detentions of thousands of people; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and poor detention conditions. The control of information has been implemented through the temporary shutdown of some media outlets; a ban on the transmission of signals of certain cable television stations that were reporting on the coup d’état; the selective use of power outages to affect the transmission by audiovisual media reporting on the coup; and attacks and threats against journalists from media outlets with editorial positions opposed to the coup d’état.

In addition, the IACHR received testimony indicating that acts of harassment have been perpetrated against individuals who have publicly demonstrated political affinity with President Zelaya. Governors, deputies, mayors, and social leaders who had allegedly demanded the restitution of the constitutional president have reported that they were subject to reprisals, threats, acts of violence, budget cuts, and military occupation of the public installations in which they worked, among other measures. President Zelaya’s family, in particular, informed the Commission about the harassment and smear campaign that have affected all of their members.

Excessive Use of Force in Public Demonstrations

Political and social participation through public demonstrations is essential to democratic life in societies and is of vital social interest. People from all political sectors have the right to fully and freely exercise their right to freedom of expression and their right to assembly, without violence and in accordance with the law and inter-American standards for the protection of human rights. As the Inter-American Commission and Court have indicated, the State not only should refrain from interfering with the exercise of these rights, but it should also adopt measures to ensure that these rights can be exercised effectively.

As the Commission has stated on previous occasions, the State has the authority to impose reasonable limitations on demonstrations so as to ensure that they are peaceful or in order to contain those who demonstrate violently. However, in exercising this authority, the conduct of its agents must be limited to employing the safest and least harmful measures, since the grounds for breaking up a demonstration should be the duty to protect people. At the same time, the legitimate use of public force in such situations presupposes—necessarily—that the force is proportionate to the legitimate end being sought, reducing to a minimum the possibility of causing personal injuries and the loss of human lives.

With regard in particular to the use of firearms, the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states: “Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Likewise, the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states expressly: “The use of firearms is considered an extreme measure.” Under Article 9 of the Basic Principles, meanwhile, firearms shall not be used against persons except when there is an imminent threat of death.

The Commission was informed during its visit that the demonstrations have been peaceful, with the exception of some cases in which there have been acts of violence, some of them serious, against persons and against property. These include the burning of a restaurant and of a bus, and attacks against a congressional deputy and several journalists.

The Commission learned that in demonstrations that were suppressed throughout the country—including Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Choloma, Comayagua, and the town of El Paraíso—there was a pattern of excessive use of public force. In fact, several of the demonstrations held since June 28, 2009, were broken up by public security forces, both police and military, resulting in deaths, cases of torture and mistreatment, hundreds of injured, and thousands of arbitrary detentions.

Right to Life

The American Convention on Human Rights establishes in its Article 4 that every person has the right to have his life respected and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. In the domestic arena, Article 65 of the Constitution of Honduras establishes that “the right to life is inviolable.”

Isis Obed Murillo Mencías, who was 19 years of age, died on July 5, 2009, as a result of a bullet wound to the head, which he sustained while participating in a demonstration outside Tegucigalpa’s Toncontin Airport. The repression was carried out by the National Police and the Army. During its visit, the Commission received concurring testimony from several people about this event. In terms of the investigation, the IACHR was informed by the Secretary of Defense of the de facto government, Adolfo Lionel Sevilla, that there was an Army report on the death of the young Isis Obed. However, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, indicated that the investigation was still underway. In addition, the Commission was informed by official sources that the report prepared by the armed forces on the military operation at the airport recognizes that members of the public forces fired arms against a group of demonstrators. The Commission was also informed about the existence of forensic reports indicating that the projectiles that caused the death are compatible with the weapons used by the public forces. The Office of the Special Human Rights Prosecutor informed the Commission that it had opened an official investigation to determine the circumstances and responsibility for this death.

The body of Pedro Magdiel Muñoz was found on July 25, 2009, in the department of El Paraíso, near the border with Nicaragua. His body bore signs of torture that had been hidden under a clean shirt that had been put on him after he was killed. The IACHR received testimony from two persons who witnessed his detention by members of the Army hours before his body was to appear. The witnesses informed the Commission that the victim had actively participated that day in demonstrations in front of military roadblocks set up in the area.

On July 30, 2009, Roger Vallejos Soriano, a teacher, received a bullet to the head during demonstrations held in Comayagüela, and he died on August 1. The State informed the Commission that an investigation is underway.

On August 2, 2009, Pedro Pablo Hernández died from a bullet wound to his head. According to testimony presented to the Commission, the gunshot came from a member of the military who was at the military roadblock located at the intersection of the Jutiapa detour, in the Jamastran valley, on the road from Danlí to Trojes. The Office of the Public Prosecutor reported that the case is being investigated.

Right to Humane Treatment

Article 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights recognizes every person’s right “to have his physical, mental, and moral integrity respected.” It also expressly states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment.” For its part, the Constitution of Honduras establishes the following in its Article 68: “Every person has the right to have his physical, mental and moral integrity respected.” The right to humane treatment, like the right to life, cannot be set aside under any circumstance.

The IACHR received testimony from more than 100 people verifying that the repression of public demonstrations was characterized by a disproportionate use of force. In fact, in the various departments to which it traveled, the Commission received testimony about individuals wounded by lead bullets or injured by blows with police truncheons and other blunt objects made of rubber, iron, and wood, and about the indiscriminate use of tear gas, as customary methods used to deter demonstrations. The Commission received testimony from dozens of people with serious injuries to the head as a result of the repression exercised both by police and military personnel. The IACHR verified that men, women, and elderly people showed bruises on various parts of their body, and it heard various accounts of people who were subject to humiliation and torture. In San Pedro Sula, in particular, the Commission was told that during the acts of repression, police officers raped a woman, and several persons received blows to the abdomen and the genitals, and pepper gas was sprayed in their eyes.

The Commission received testimony about the August 14 repression on the Choloma bridge in San Pedro Sula. According to the information received, the police threw tear gas canisters and began to beat and detain demonstrators. The IACHR heard the testimony of two female demonstrators who indicated that members of a strike force, the Cobra Command, chased them for several blocks then struck them on the legs and buttocks with police truncheons while insulting them. Another woman told the Commission that police officers stripped her naked from the torso down, hitting her brutally with their truncheons. The Commission also received the testimony of a worker who was beaten at that same demonstration and who suffered a fracture of the nasal septum and cuts to his forehead and head.

One person affected testified to the Commission that he had been traveling in the region near Las Manos, near the border with Nicaragua, at the end of July. Military elements stopped the bus in which he was traveling to the border city of Las Manos, in the department of El Paraíso, and they forced it to turn back, after subjecting passengers to humiliations and insults. When the bus turned back, the military men fired, and a bullet hit the man in the ear, blowing off a piece of it. At first, the hospital did not want to treat him, saying that he was a terrorist.

Information was also received about police brutality at a march toward the National Congress in Tegucigalpa, held on August 12. According to the testimony, when they arrived at the destination of the march, members of the Army, the National Police, and the elite Cobra Command repressed demonstrators by beating them as well as bystanders who were not participating in the protest. The Commission heard testimony from a man who was sitting on a bench when he saw a demonstrator receive a brutal beating. He recounted the following: “A teenager was running down the avenue, and the military men grabbed him and hit him with an iron stick. I told them, ‘You’re going to kill the boy,’ and then one of the military men said, ‘Grab that old man,” and they started to beat me.”

Two brothers who had left the August 12 demonstration in Tegucigalpa told how military men forced them off the bus with blows of the fist then took them to the Congress, where the brothers, along with others who had been detained, were forced to take off their shirts and shoes. According to the testimony of one of the brothers, “They were hitting me in the face and pressing my testicles with their police clubs. They made me fall to the floor, which was very hot. The police stood on my toes and smashed them over and over. I lifted my head because the [concrete] was burning me, and they clubbed me twice.”

Several individuals became victims of persecution by the Comayagua security forces after participating in demonstrations. One of the victims said that after the demonstration in which she had participated had already been dispersed by the members of the security forces, police entered the house in which she had taken refuge, apprehended her, made her get in a military truck where there were other people who had been detained, and then threw tear gas inside the vehicle. The Inter-American Commission heard similar testimony from various individuals regarding this incident. Information was also received about the use of tear gas canisters thrown inside family homes in which demonstrators had allegedly taken refuge.

Right to Personal Liberty

Article 7 of the American Convention on Human Rights states that “every person has the right to personal liberty and security” and “no one shall be deprived of his physical liberty except for the reasons and under the conditions established beforehand by the constitution of the State Party concerned or by a law established pursuant thereto.” It also states that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or imprisonment” and that “anyone who is detained shall be informed of the reasons for his detention and shall be promptly notified of the charge or charges against him.” For its part, Article 69 of the Constitution of Honduras indicates: “Personal liberty is inviolable and may be restricted or suspended temporarily only in accordance with the law.”

Another method used by the de facto government to silence and obstruct expressions of protest has been the use of detentions of demonstrators and even of individuals who were in the immediate vicinity of demonstrations without participating in them. According to the information received, between 3,500 and 4,000 people were arbitrarily detained by the police and the Army during the demonstrations. The Commission confirmed with various sources that in many cases, no record was made of their detentions, or records were inconsistent; nor were judicial authorities or public prosecutors informed. No charges have been brought against these individuals, who were released hours after their detention. According to what was reported to the Commission, the arbitrary detentions allegedly lasted for periods ranging from 45 minutes to 24 hours. According to these reports, those who were detained were subject to blows, threats at gunpoint, and verbal attacks. It was also reported that some of the cells to which they were taken were covered with urine and feces. The Commission received information that at some police posts the judges responsible who appeared in response to petitions for habeas corpus were mistreated, threatened at gunpoint, and verbally abused.

For example, on August 12, 28 persons were arrested (27 adults and one minor) during the march toward the National Congress. Three of them were charged with terrorism and given conditional release. The other 24 were charged with crimes of sedition, damage to private property, illegal demonstration, and theft. Those detained were taken to installations of the Cobra Battalion, which is not equipped as a detention center but is a training camp for specialized forces. At the Cobra Battalion, those detained were confined to the stands of a sports stadium. Once 24 hours had passed—the period in which, under constitutional guidelines, they had to be released—the Office of the Public Prosecutor filed indictments against them. The afternoon of the following day, at a police installation, a hearing was held on the indictments. It wasn’t until that moment that those who had been detained learned of the charges against them, which were the grounds for their detention. During the hearing, police forces and members of the Cobra Command were inside the room. All those detained were released on different dates between August 14 and 20; 18 have been exonerated and the other 6 continue to face prosecution on the illegal demonstration charges.

From July 24 to 27, between 4,000 and 5,000 people were trapped between military roadblocks in the border area with Nicaragua, in the department of El Paraíso, during the enforcement in that area of a continual curfew by virtue of consecutive extensions every 12 hours. The Commission received concurring testimony from numerous witnesses indicating that during this period they did not have access to water, food, or medicine; that they were repressed by security forces through the use of tear gas; and that those who were injured did not receive medical attention.

The Commission considers it imperative that the de facto government adopt urgent measures to guarantee the right to life, humane treatment, and personal liberty of all persons. It is essential that serious, exhaustive, conclusive, and impartial investigations be done of all cases involving human rights violations. The Commission underscores the need for those who are responsible to be duly tried and punished, and for adequate reparations to be made to the family members and victims of violations that are attributable to agents of the State. To this effect, it is critical that the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor continue and expand the task it must carry out to investigate the totality of violations that have occurred in the context of the coup, and that no obstacles are placed in the way.

During its visit, the Commission received testimony stating that in the context of the demonstrations and the repression and detentions carried out by police officers and members of the military, women were especially subject to acts of violence and humiliation because of their gender. The Commission confirmed that, while they were under the direct control of members of the police and Army, many women were subject to abusive and denigrating treatment that included having their breasts and vagina groped. In other cases, the Commission received information that some of the women had had their legs spread open and their genitals touched with police truncheons.

Right to Freedom of Expression

The guarantee and protection of freedom of expression is an essential condition for the defense of all human rights and for the very existence of any democratic society. The American Convention on Human Rights establishes the right to freedom of expression in its Article 13, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression” and indicates that this includes “freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.” Meanwhile, Article 72 of the Constitution of Honduras recognizes the freedom to express thoughts “by any means of dissemination, without prior censorship.”

The Inter-American Court has consistently stressed the importance of this right, holding that:

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. It is also a condition sine qua non for the development of political parties, trade unions, scientific and cultural societies and, in general, those who wish to influence the public. It represents, in short, the means that enable the community, when exercising its options, to be sufficiently informed. Consequently, it can be said that a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.

The IACHR has received information about situations that have arisen since the coup d’état that constitute serious violations of the right to freedom of expression. During the visit, it was confirmed that on June 28, 2009, various media outlets—in particular, television channels and radio stations—were forced, by military occupations of their facilities, to suspend their broadcasts. In some cases, they were subject to technical restrictions such as power outages and takeovers of broadcast repeaters and transmitters, which made it impossible for them to report on what was happening. It was also verified that several cable channels were taken off the air and that TV programs that took a critical view of the coup were suspended. Other mechanisms for controlling information have included calls from various public officials, especially members of the public forces, about the inadvisability of transmitting information or opinions against the de facto government. There have also been detentions, attacks, and the destruction of equipment that reporters use to do their jobs, as well as violent attacks and death threats by private individuals against the media.

The IACHR has been able to note that following the coup d’état, the communications media in Honduras have become polarized. The publicly owned media, due to their inadequate institutional design, are not independent from the executive branch; as a result, they are openly biased in favor of the de facto government. Journalists and media outlets that are perceived to be closely aligned with the government have been targets of strong acts of aggression, presumably by people who oppose the coup d’état. Other media outlets that are perceived as backing the resistance movement have seen their journalistic efforts constantly affected both by agents of the State as well as by private individuals who restrict their reporting work. In the current sharply polarized environment, there are few media outlets that have made a public commitment to civil organizations that they will present pluralistic information without having their editorial position affect their reporting. However, the task of providing information freely is not easy to sustain, as the de facto government has powerful mechanisms for interference and intimidation that can be used either openly or covertly, with the excuse of formally applying pre-existing laws. In addition, the threats and violent attacks by private individuals have seriously hampered the exercise of the journalistic profession.

Closure of Media Outlets

The IACHR was informed that on June 28, military personnel occupied the installations for the transmission antennas of various television and radio channels in the vicinity of Cerro de Canta Gallo, in Tegucigalpa, and kept technicians from turning on the transmitters for several hours. The transmission antennas of Channels 5 and 3, Channel 57, Channel 9, Channel 33, Channel 36, Channel 30, Channel 54, and Channel 11 are all in that area. This measure, along with the constant cutoffs of electric power, hampered the ability of these channels to transmit signals. On another matter, the State-owned Channel 8 did not transmit for more than a day. When it resumed its transmission, its management had changed, as well as its programming. The signals of several private channels—Channel 6, Channel 11, Maya TV, and Channel 36 in Tegucigalpa; and La Cumbre and Televisora de Aguán, channel 5, in the department of Colón—were interrupted by military takeovers or on instructions from the Army.

Also occupied or surrounded by members of the public forces were Radio Progreso, in the city of El Progreso, department of Yoro; Radio Globo, in Tegucigalpa; Radio Juticalpa, in the department of Olancho; and Radio Marcala, in the department of La Paz. In this last case, members of the military tried to shut down the radio station, but residents in the area blocked their path and the station kept transmitting.

Besides this situation, it was confirmed that the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) gave instructions to cable television providers that either directly or indirectly led them to remove from their lineup international channels or national programs transmitted by local channels. Such was the case of CNN en Español, Telesur, Cubavisión Internacional, Guatevisión, and Ticavisión, among others.

Power Outages

In the morning hours of June 28, there were selective power outages, according to complaints received by the IACHR. The power outages hampered the ability of radio and television stations to transmit freely, included sectors where the transmission towers operated, and affected telephone services for both land lines and cellular phones.

Detentions of Members of the Media

The IACHR received information to the effect that several journalists were detained, attacked, and threatened for reasons directly linked to the exercise of their profession. On June 28, 2009, cartoonist Allan McDonald was detained along with his 17-month-old daughter, by soldiers belonging to the Armed Forces who broke into his house and burned his cartoons and drawing materials. That same day, members of the public forces held a group of reporters from Telesur and The Associated Press in Tegucigalpa to question them about their visa status. This operation, against Telesur and VTV, was repeated on July 11. The following morning, members of the police forces kept the reporters from leaving the hotel for several hours. The crews from both channels left Honduras the next day because they believed that their security was at risk.

The journalists illegally detained and beaten by members of the public forces included: Naún Palacios, in Tocoa, Colón, on June 30, 2009; Mario Amaya, a photographer from the Diario Hoy, on July 2; Rommel Gómez, in San Pedro Sula; the director of Radio Coco Dulce, Alfredo López, on August 12 in Tegucigalpa; and journalist Gustavo Cardoza of Radio Progreso, on August 14, in Cortés. At that same demonstration, an independent journalist from Tela, Edwin Castillo, was beaten by security forces.

Attacks and Threats against the Media

The IACHR received information about serious and multiple attacks suffered by journalists due to acts carried out by public forces or private individuals, but always for the purpose of preventing them from freely doing their work. Thus, for example, Juan Ramón Sosa of the daily newspaper La Tribuna was beaten and insulted when he covered a demonstration on June 29 in Tegucigalpa. According to the information received, photojournalist Wendy Olivo of the Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias was assaulted by members of the public forces when she tried to photograph people who had been detained at a police station and refused to turn over her camera. On July 30, a number of journalists and cameramen were allegedly assaulted by members of the police in the context of security forces’ response to the demonstration that day in Tegucigalpa. According to the information received, Karen Méndez, a journalist from Telesur, was pushed and threatened by a police officer, while a cameraman from the same station, Roger Guzmán, was also attacked and had work materials seized. José Oseguera and Luis Andrés Bustillo, cameramen from the Maya TV program “Hable como Habla,” were allegedly beaten in the Durazno area, on the northern exit out of Tegucigalpa, on July 30, 2009. Edgardo Castro, a journalist from the Televisora Hondureña de Compayagua, allegedly was assaulted on July 30, 2009, when he was filming police actions against protestors at the demonstration in Tegucigalpa. His equipment was also allegedly damaged. On August 5, 2009, a photographer from the daily Tiempo, Héctor Clara Cruz, was covering a student demonstration at the National Autonomous University of Honduras and was beaten by members of the police so that he would stop taking pictures of the confrontation. On August 12, 2009, Richard Cazulá, a Channel 36 cameraman, allegedly was beaten by members of the public forces and his camera was allegedly damaged, when he was filming a demonstration in Tegucigalpa. On August 14, 2009, during a demonstration, a group of police attacked photographer Julio Umaña from the daily Tiempo—who had shown them his accreditation—and confiscated his materials.

In terms of attacks against journalists that stem from actions of private individuals, the IACHR observes that for the most part these took place while they were covering demonstrations. In Tegucigalpa, three journalists from the Channel 42 program “Entrevistado” allegedly were attacked on June 28, 2009, by a group of demonstrators, who also knocked them down and broke their cameras. On June 29, 2009, El Heraldo photographer Johnny Magallanes allegedly was attacked when he was covering a demonstration in front of the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa. On July 1, some demonstrators who presumably belonged to the resistance movement assaulted Carlos Rivera, a correspondent for Radio América in the city of Santa Rosa de Copán. Henry Carvajal and Martín Rodríguez, a photographer and journalist from the newspaper La Tribuna, reported that they had been subject to acts of aggression by demonstrators belonging to the resistance on July 26 in the department of El Paraíso.

In addition, information was received indicating that several members of the media have been threatened since the coup d’état as a result of their work in journalism. The threats have come from different sectors and have been made via the telephone, electronically, or in person, when the journalists cover demonstrations or news events related to the political crisis. The IACHR was able to note that threats to prevent the free exercise of journalism have been on the rise in recent weeks. Members of the media who have been subject to serious threats include, among others: Madeleine García and other members of the Telesur crew; Esdras Amado López (Channel 36); Eduardo Madonado (“Hable como Habla” on Maya TV); Jorge Otts Anderson (La Cumbre channel in Tocoa, Colón); Johnny Lagos (El Libertador); José Luis Galdámez (“Tras la Verdad” program on Radio Globo); Andrés Molina (Radio Juticalpa); Carlos Lara, Wilfredo Paz, and Rigoberto Mendoza (in Tocoa, Colón); members of Radio Progreso; members of Radio La Voz Lenca, among other independent or community radio stations; Francisco Montero (Radio Sonaguera); and Héctor Castellanos (a program on Radio Globo), to name some examples of threats coming from members of the public forces or from sectors presumably associated with the de facto government. In addition, Carlos Mauricio Flores and Fernando Berrios, of El Heraldo, received death threats in the context of violent attacks on the newspaper for which they work; these presumably came from radical groups opposed to the coup d’état. Finally, Dagoberto Rodríguez of Radio Cadena Voces has also suffered acts of aggression and threats presumably made by groups that belong to the resistance movement.

Attacks on Media Outlets

As has been stated previously, the IACHR observed a growing polarization that has manifested itself, among other ways, in the form of violent attacks by private individuals against the communications media. Such attacks appear to have intensified in recent weeks.

Information was received about an attempted attack on Radio América on June 30, when a bomb was placed on the broadcaster’s premises in Tegucigalpa. On the night of July 4, in Tegucigalpa, an unidentified individual allegedly left an explosive device in the Centro Comercial Prisa, the shopping center where the offices of the newspaper Tiempo and Channel 11 are located. At the end of July, an explosive device was found against the Channel 6 facilities in San Pedro Sula. On August 14, hooded and armed individuals burned a vehicle that was delivering the newspaper La Tribuna. The next day, unidentified persons launched five Molotov cocktails against the building of the daily El Heraldo; these nearly caused a fire in the newspaper’s offices.

Based on Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the State has the international obligation to guarantee and protect freedom of expression. It should refrain from using direct or indirect mechanisms of intimidation and should protect the life and physical integrity of members of the media, whatever their editorial stance. Consequently, the Commission urges the State to respect the free exercise of this right; refrain from using direct or indirect forms of intimidation or censorship; investigate acts of aggression to which members of the media and media outlets have been victims; protect the life and physical integrity of members of the media as well as the installations of media outlets; and promote an atmosphere of tolerance and pluralism that allows for the widest possible debate on public issues.

Conclusion

The Commission confirmed during this visit that the coup d’état of June 28 has created a situation of democratic illegitimacy that has a negative impact on the fulfillment of the human rights of all the people of Honduras.

The Commission confirmed the existence of a pattern of disproportionate use of public force on the part of police and military forces, arbitrary detentions, and the control of information aimed at limiting political participation by a sector of the citizenry. This resulted in the deaths of at least four persons, dozens of injuries, thousands of arbitrary detentions, the temporary shutdown of television channels, and threats and assaults against journalists.

The Commission verified the existence of a sharp polarization that has influenced the communications media and that affects the free flow of information and the possibility of a vigorous, unrestrained debate of issues related to the interruption of the institutional order. The Commission was also able to confirm the existence of serious restrictions to the exercise of freedom of expression coming from the de facto government, which have generated an atmosphere of intimidation that inhibits the free exercise of freedom of expression. Finally, the Commission was able to prove the existence of death threats and violent attacks from various sectors against journalists and media outlets due to their editorial position.

Based on the American Convention on Human Rights, ratified by the State in 1977, the State has the international obligation to prevent violations of human rights when they occur, and to investigate, try, and punish those responsible. To this effect, the Commission urges the State to respect the right to life, to humane treatment, to individual liberty, and to freedom of expression.

The Commission would especially like to call attention to the valuable work of human rights defenders. They have played a key role in obtaining information and in working to protect people’s rights, under conditions of personal risk.

The Commission will continue to observe the human rights situation in Honduras in the context of the coup d’état and will make its final report on this visit public in the near future.

The bodies of the inter-American human rights system have maintained on repeated occasions that the democratic system is the principal guarantee for the observance of human rights. In this regard, the Commission considers that only the return to the democratic institutional system in Honduras will make it possible for the conditions to be in place for the effective fulfillment of the human rights of all the people of Honduras.

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[en] “The Only Crime”: Testimony of Marcial Hernandez, beaten, detained & hospitalized

Marcial Hernandez: beaten, detained & hospitalized. Cortes, August 14th, 2009. Photo: Sandra Cuffe(Marcial Hernandez: beaten, detained & hospitalized. Photo: Sandra Cuffe)

Text, translation and photos by Sandra Cuffe

San Pedro Sula, Honduras, August 15th, 2009.

Repression against the national movement against the military coup in Honduras has become a daily occurrence. All over the country, police and the army are using tactics of terror and violence to disperse protests and illegally detain demonstrators.

Nevertheless, the resistance actions coordinated by the National Front of Resistance to the Military Coup in Honduras (FNRCGE, for its acronym in Spanish) continue to grow across the nation.

On August 14th, organizations and citizens in resistance from the northwestern region of the country mobilized in Choloma, blocking vehicle traffic along the highway between San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortés. It was a very strategic choice of location, along the main highway leading to the country’s main port. Puerto Cortés has a great volume of exports, principally to the United States, of textile goods from the maquila factories in the northwestern region, as well as the fruits of the Tela Railroad Company, subsidiary of the transnational banana company Chiquita.

Soon after the highway blockade began, there was a negotiation between resistance leaders and police officials, supposedly in order to avoid yet another violent eviction. According to witnesses, a verbal agreement was made between the two parties to allow the protest to continue for another hour and peacefully disperse.

However, approximately twenty minutes after the agreement was reached, a large police presence gathered, along with some elements of the army, and police proceeded to violently disperse the protest, using tear gas and a water cannon. The demonstration dispersed, but police ran after resistance participants running towards downtown Choloma, using brutal violence during their arrest of protestors and others and during their transfer to the nearby police station in Choloma.

Twenty-seven people were detained. Among them were minors, elderly people, women, and journalists. The majority of the 27 detained were violently beaten.

Due to the severity of their injuries, five men were transferred in police custody to the Catarino Rivas public hospital in San Pedro Sula. All received treatment in the emergency ward for wounds documented as having been “caused by impact with a hard object.” Two men were released, but three protestors were still hospitalized late that same afternoon and were being held for observation and further treatment in the emergency room for an undefined period of time.

Julio Espinoza Carías, from Tela, Atlántida, has an exposed fracture of his right femur caused by the impact of a bullet, along with other wounds on his face and body.

Rogelio Mejía Espinoza, of the Aguán Farmers’ Movement (MCA) in the community of Guadalupe Carney in the Silín sector, Colón, has a fractured left maxillary sinus, with blood in the sinus, along with other injuries to his face and head, including a head wound that required several stitches.

Marcial Hernández, a member of the Coordination of Popular Organizations of the Aguán (COPA), from Tocoa, Colón, has a fractured left hand, a wound on the top of his head that required several stitches, and other injuries on his body. Immediately after the following interview, he was taken for a second time to get further X-rays done.

The following testimony was recorded in the Catarino Rivas hospital in San Pedro Sula in the late afternoon of August 14th. It was then transcribed word for word and translated into English.

TESTIMONY OF MARCIAL HERNANDEZ:

“After the police arrived throwing [tear gas], we ran towards the central plaza. We ran well past the plaza, and they kept following us. And when we came back to regroup in the plaza, well, they let us make it to the plaza – some of us.

Those who were further away, dispersed, were being pursued. The police were grabbing them, beating them with their batons, hitting them, and taking them away to be detained.

We stayed there. Later, they surrounded the plaza. So once again we ran, this time towards the bridge. And when we were running there, the police came out in front of us, so we turned back.

There were some women from the Medicine, Hospital and Similar Workers’ Union (SITRAMEDHYS). And they were running, and we all went into some disgusting bathrooms that were there. We opened the gate and ran in. And the very same people closed the gate behind us. But when we went in, the women who had children with them entered the bathrooms and there was no more room for me, but anyways, we had to save the kids. So I sat down in a chair. The police passed us and about two minutes went by.

When they came back, they came to where I was. They opened the gate and came in running. And as though I were the enemy they grabbed me. They didn’t ask me for any kind of declaration. Someone simply pointed me out and then they came, but all at once, with their batons, hitting me on my back, on my head.

And someone grabbed me. One of them grabbed me by the shirt and shoved me. And when I walked forward, another one kicked me with his feet, his shoes, and knocked me over. And then I didn’t have any other choice but to curl up on the ground. And they really went at it there until they felt like stopping.

From there, they dragged me out. Then I stood up, and while I was getting up, they took advantage of it because I was exposing my back, so they took the chance to hit me as much as they wanted. And when we went out into the street, they put me back into the truck.

At that point, I was losing a lot of blood from my head.

Marcial Hernandez. Hospitalized in San Pedro Sula, August 14th. Photo: Sandra Cuffe

(Marcial Hernandez: head wound from police brutality. Photo: Sandra Cuffe)

They grabbed another compañero, and they were taking him on foot, beating him with the baton, and the police took us. And when we were arriving at the police station, they pushed me so hard that I fell down. They kept kicking me there, and then they dragged me into the police station.

The police official called them animals, he said something to them anyways. I could see that he said something about why they were doing that. But I couldn’t get up.

And the compañera that was here – she was the only one who helped me at that moment in the police station. When they wouldn’t respond to anything anyone said, someone yelled ‘stop hitting that man, don’t beat him, he’s defenseless.’

And that’s what happened. That’s what happened today.

The only… What’s it called? The only crime, absolutely the only one, was that we were going to a protest against this de facto government.”

# # #

Sandra Cuffe – sandra.m.cuffe@gmail.com – is a freelance journalist and photographer from Canada. In Honduras since July 3rd, she is currently a correspondent for the DominionPaper.ca (Canada), UpsideDownWorld.org (United States), DefensoresEnLinea.com (Honduras), and several community radio stations.

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[en] GRITtv: Laura Flanders interviews Rick Rowley & Sandra Cuffe

August 4, 2009.

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[en] May I Speak Freely?: HONDURAS NEWS IN REVIEW: July 10 – Aug. 3, 2009

Police Violence in the central park of San Pedro Sula. August 3rd. Image from video taken by Alfredo Bogran.

Honduras News in Review—July 10-Aug. 3, 2009

1. Post-coup death toll rises
2. International human rights delegation observes “systematic violations of human rights”

3. Repression severe on Nicaraguan border as Zelaya supporters gather to meet exiled president
4. Protests in Tegucigalpa, other cities meet with violent police, military response
5. Human rights NGOs take action on behalf of detainees, at-risk citizens
6. U.S. State Dept. maintains guardedly pro-Zelaya stance
7. U.S. Congress divided on Honduras
8. Honduran Congress members “deliberately kept out of legislative session” that ousted Zelaya
9. Excerpt of July 21 letter from Manuel Zelaya to Barack Obama
10. Human rights ombudsman Ramón Custodio censured by international human rights advocates
11. San José Accord still on table, but conflicts loom large
12. Elite Honduran business interests flex behind-the-scenes power in de facto government
13. “Cuarta urna” proposals had raised hopes among Honduras’ marginalized communities
14. Kidnapped journalist found dead
15. Other news in brief

1. Post-coup death toll rises

On July 25, fellow Zelaya supporters found the body of 23-year-old Pedro Magdiel Muñoz Salvador, notably bruised and stabbed 46 times, near a roadblock in El Paraiso. Muñoz had been among the approximately 5,000 supporters heading to the Nicaraguan border to greet deposed president Manuel Zelaya as he attempted to cross into the country. According to independent journalist and MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada, who has been sending daily updates of events on the ground, Muñoz had been part of a small group that had most actively challenged a police blockade in El Paraiso—one of 15 set up between Tegucigalpa and the border with Nicaragua. Muñoz allegedly had been arrested the previous evening, a claim that police officials denied. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for an investigation into the murder, and urged the interim government to “adopt every measure to guarantee the right to life, integrity and security to all citizens of Honduras.”

The following day, Jorge Edgardo Cruz Sierra, 35, and Víctor Samuel Almendárez Fuentes, 12, were killed outside the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa after a soccer match. A third victim, Francisco Javier García Ortega, 45, died a few days later. Official reports attributed the deaths, along with at least five gunshot injuries, to a clash between rival fans that was subsequently subdued by police with tear gas and live ammunition. Some accounts said that the incident was provoked by gun-wielding fans who were waiting outside the stadium, as police had searched people on their way into the match. By contrast, Estrada suggested the police aggression was in response to crowd protests over the death of Muñoz and “the state of repression” in the country, not a soccer riot. According to Estrada, a block of fans had come into the game with a banner depicting Pedro Muñoz’s face; that section of the crowd was repeatedly skipped in the television coverage of the game, he noted. After what Estrada called “an extremely boring match,” which ended in a 0-0 tie, “the youth left protesting … yelling, ‘Murderers! Murderers!’” Television reports and a video posted to YouTube showed a police officer firing into the crowd. On July 29, Orlin Javier Cerrato Cruz, spokesperson for the Ministry of Security, allowed for the possibility that one of the deaths could have been at the hands of an officer. “We need to look at all the evidence to be able to ascertain whether [a police officer] is responsible.”

On July 29, a 38-year-old teacher, Roger Abrahán Vallejo, was shot in the head by police during a protest in northern Tegucigalpa. Witnesses said the shooting occurred as hundreds of police charged a crowd of protesters. Vallejo died in hospital three days later. Teachers present at the Hospital Escuela, where Vallejo was being treated, reported the presence of police and military forces at the health-care facility. According to Sergio Rivera, a member of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras, police “forced their way into the wounded leader’s room … to intimidate his companions.” Police officials said were opening an investigation to determine whether the shot that killed Vallejo was fired by a police officer.

The first death directly tied to events related to the coup occurred on July 5, when Isis Obed Murillo, 19, was shot and killed when police fired into a crowd of Zelaya supporters awaiting the ousted president’s arrival at the Tegucigalpa airport. Since then, several other killings have been reported, although reports have varied and it is unclear whether all are related to post-coup events. Nevertheless, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has noted and requested clarifying information regarding the following six alleged murders (in addition to Muñoz): the death of journalist Gabriel Fino Noriega, Radio América correspondent in San Juan Puebla, Atlántida, killed on July 3 as he left the Radio América offices; the discovery of a body in “La Montañita” with apparent signs of torture and a T-shirt supporting the Zelaya administration’s “cuarta urna” proposal; the discovery of two bodies in a barrel in Tegucigalpa, with money and cell phones still intact, and their arms bound with shoelaces; the July 11 murder of popular leader Roger Bados, in San Pedro Sula; and the July 12 murder of popular leader Ramón García, in Santa Bárbara. [AP, 7/25/09; Oscar Estrada report, 7/27/09; EFE, 7/28/09; La Tribuna, 7/29/09; El Tiempo, 7/29/09; IACHR press release, 7/27/09; La Tribuna, 7/27/09; HablaHonduras, 7/31/09; AFP, 8/2/09; La Jornada (Mexico), 8/2/09]

2. International human rights delegation observes “systematic violations of human rights”

A fact-finding team of 17 representatives from European and Latin American human rights organizations visited Honduras to observe the human rights situation first hand, releasing on July 23 a preliminary report of their findings. The Observation Mission on the Human Rights Situation in Honduras said it verified many reports of abuses earlier in the month, including at least six extrajudicial killings and two confirmed disappearances. There were a number of other murders that they did not have the time to verify, according to an AlterNet reporter writing from inside the country, who was told by a member of the mission that if they had “stayed longer, the numbers of political murders would be higher.” The mission’s report also verified and documented many reported instances of press repression (see MISF 7/28 report) and also noted a credible report of paramilitary organizations, supposedly with drug trafficking connections, dressed in camouflage and acting in conjunction with the 15th Battalion of the Honduran Army in the Colón region. A final report from the mission is expected soon. On July 30, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), one of the participating organizations, issued a statement of concern over the human rights situation in Honduras, urging that the international community continue to condemn the coup, that the European Union suspend economic cooperation with Honduras, and that the U.N. high commissioner conduct a field visit to the country, among other things. [International Observation Mission preliminary report, 7/23/09; AlterNet, 7/28/09; FIDH, 7/30/09]

3. Repression severe on Nicaraguan border as Zelaya supporters gather to meet exiled president

A group of observers from the United Nations arrived at the Honduran border with Nicaragua on July 27, where supporters of Zelaya had been congregating since July 24 to greet the deposed president, who had promised to cross the border there over the weekend. The delegation, strictly there to document human rights conditions, reported shortages of water and food for the inhabitants in areas affected by the round-the-clock curfew, which covered approximately one third of the country and ultimately lasted five days. They received reports of a Red Cross vehicle that was trying to make it through to an encampment of protesters with basic provisions, which was denied passage by a military roadblock.

Movement to the southern border was impeded by as many as 15 military roadblocks, which stopped the busloads of supporters, forcing them to walk. Independent journalist and MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada witnessed first-hand many of the events at the border, and reported that throngs of supporters joined Zelaya, despite being deprived of transportation. Via Ciudadana, an international campesino rights organization, reported that marchers were variously tear-gassed and shot at, resulting in at least three injuries. On July 25, news broke that Via Ciudadana leader Rafael Alegría had been arrested. Estrada and the group of reporters with whom he was traveling were able to locate Alegría, along with roughly 150 peaceful protesters, in the local jail. With the help of Juan Almendares, director of the Center for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families, Estrada and the reporters were able to secure Alegría’s release, as well as those of the women being held, who had complained of sexual harassment as well as threats of sexual abuse. The same day, popular leaders Bertha Cáceres and Salvador Zúniga, of Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations (COPINH), and Miriam Miranda, of the Garifuna organization OFRANEH, were also detained but subsequently released.

A report from women’s group Feministas en Resistencia substantiates a claim that at least one Honduras Red Cross vehicle was used to transport tear gas and arms to the barricades along the southern route. This has had the effect of undermining the trust local people have in the aid organizations generally and the Red Cross specifically. Although the Red Cross said they never sent a unit in that direction, they have not denounced the misappropriation of their symbol by government forces, nor have they made a formal complaint to appropriate authorities, according to the group. [Oscar Estrada report, 7/27/09; Via Ciudadana; Revistazo, 7/28/09; Feministas en Resistencia, 7/28/09]

4. Protests in Tegucigalpa, other cities meet with violent police, military response

Violent repression exploded on July 30 in the El Durazno section of Tegucigalpa, a day that union leader and National Front Against the Coup organizer Juan Barahona called “the fiercest repression we have experienced to date.” Many nonviolent protesters and bystanders were beaten, including independent presidential candidate Carlos Reyes, whose arm was broken, MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada, whose camera was destroyed and confiscated along with his footage and cell phone, and president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CODEH) Andrés Pavón. CODEH released a full account of their experience on the streets, reporting that disproportionate amounts of police and military forces were on hand, stopping buses full of people headed to El Durazno and briefly hijacking them, with helicopter support, to locations far from the protests. Some of these busloads were detained.

The protesters on hand were tear-gassed and beaten, seemingly at random. When one man who had stopped to take pictures was chased into his office, Pavón tried to intervene, stating his credentials. The police officer threatened him, calling human rights worthless and attempting to hit him with his baton. The account continued, “We bore witness to the disproportionate and beastly nature of the aggression. They were detaining the protesters, marching them down the street, single file, which recalled [a scene from] the Jewish ghettos.”

After being loaded onto trucks, the protesters were taken to the police’s Fourth Precinct or the Army’s Seventh Regional Command, where they joined over 100 detainees. By CODEH’s count, at least 16 people were severely wounded, and one, Roger Abrahán Vallejo, killed by gunshot. (See top story.) Reports from Comayagua city yielded similar stories, with at least 100 detained, over 20 severely wounded, and gas canisters being thrown inside the cells. Similar reports from Copán city emerged from protests there the following day. The New York Times also reported clashes in at least four cities. [NY Times, 7/31/09; TeleSur, 7/30/09; (Editor’s note: COFADEH reports will be posted to mayispeekfreely.org soon]

5. Human rights NGOs take action on behalf of detainees, at-risk citizens

In its legal capacity, CODEH made claims of habeas corpus for people detained in Tegucigalpa, Comayagua and Copán July 30 (see above story), only to be frustrated by judges who arrived after the detainees had been released without any intake or discharge records on file, leaving no evidence of the witnessed illegal detentions. CODEH has made four formal reports of human rights abuses to date, calling out numerous members of the de facto government for their roles in the events since June 28, including the previously reported state of exception decree, domestic media repression, and treatment of foreign diplomats.

According to an interview earlier in the month with Reina Rivera, former director of the Center for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, the military and the police are working in very close coordination, with the latter appearing to take orders from the former rather than checking its power in-country. She said that reports of disappearances are currently being verified, and that claims of forced military conscription, reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and others, have been followed by reports that these are now “voluntary,” due to pressure from NGOs.

On July 24, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expanded its list of people granted precautionary measures “in order to safeguard the life and personal integrity of persons in Honduras, who, according to information received, are at risk.” The expanded list names scores of people, including journalists, union leaders, leaders of local NGOs and former government officials. The commission has also requested information on specific claims of murders, beatings, death threats, press repression and other forms of abuse. [MDZ Online, 7/11/09; Revistazo; Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Precautionary Measures 2009]

6. U.S. State Dept. maintains guardedly pro-Zelaya stance

On July 27, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly restated the official U.S. stance on Honduras, saying, “We want the restoration of democratic order. And that includes the return by mutual agreement of the democratically elected president, and that’s President [Manuel] Zelaya.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been more guarded in her assessment, omitting the last sentence regarding the return of Zelaya, saying, as she did on July 7, “We hope at the end of this mediation there will be a return of democratic constitutional order that is agreed to by all concerned. The exact nature of that, the specifics of it, we will leave to the parties themselves.”

Despite having generally expressed a position against the interim government, the State Department has not legally declared the Zelaya’s removal a coup d’etat, a position that Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley restated plainly in a July 20 briefing. Although the Obama administration and State Department have used the word “coup,” it hasn’t legally been declared such; clauses in the Foreign Assistance Act and Millennium Challenge Accounts call for the immediate termination of the flow of aid to a country in which a coup has “legally” taken place. At stake are $43.2 million in foreign aid slated for Honduras in 2009, including Millennium Challenge compact monies. There is $130 million left to be disbursed to Honduras under the Millennium Challenge through 2010. Over $20 million in military and police assistance and other aid programs have been suspended thus far, and $11 million in Millennium Challenge monies have yet to be authorized.

The argument for not cutting off aid has a humanitarian dimension—Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with the most extreme inequality in wealth distribution. Cutting off aid would mainly affect the roughly 5.2 million people living under the poverty line, and not necessarily those pushing for the coup. Those who favor a tougher stance echo the words of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who said in a July 15 Miami Herald op-ed, “If those who overthrew Zelaya remain intransigent, we must look at additional cuts, without harming the poor more than Honduran politicians already have. In addition, we should consider pursuing punitive measures—including suspending travel visas—for anyone involved in suppressing the Honduran people.”

Spokesperson Kelly also stressed the department’s desire to have both parties adhere to the mediation talks headed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. On July 28, the United States applied more pressure on the de facto government by revoking diplomatic visas for four of its officials: Tomas Arita Valle, the Supreme Court justice who signed the order for Zelaya’s arrest; José Alfredo Saavedra, president of the Honduran Congress; human rights ombudsman Ramon Custodio; and Adolfo Lionel Sevilla, defense minister in the interim government. In a briefing that day, Kelly added that the State Department would further support the Zelaya government in this matter. “Once they submit the proper notification of termination on [Embassy diplomats and staff who support the de facto regime], the United States will take steps to terminate their status,” he said. [Miami Herald, 7/15; U.S. State Dept., 7/27/09; U.S. State Dept., 7/28/09; Reuters, 7/28; Business Week, 7/29]

7. U.S. Congress divided on Honduras

Meanwhile, in Congress, two starkly different resolutions on Honduras are competing for support. H. Res. 630—which Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., introduced July 10—”condemns the June 28 coup d’etat in Honduras and refuses to recognize the de facto Micheletti government installed by that coup d’etat.” It also specifically calls for Manuel Zelaya to be reinstated and for the Obama administration to suspend any non-humanitarian aid, which it has not done to the full extent possible. Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, a co-signer of 630, has been circulating a letter addressed to President Barack Obama that cites human rights abuses and urges the United States to take further action against the de facto government, including a suspension of non-humanitarian aid and a freeze on bank accounts and assets of individuals involved in the coup. Grijalva said such actions would have no adverse effect on the people of Honduras, but would force the de facto government to “abandon its uncompromising stance.”

On the other hand, H. Res. 619, put forth July 8 by Rep. Connie Mack, R.-Fla., “condemns Mr. Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales for his unconstitutional and illegal attempts to alter the Constitution of Honduras,” and calls the actions of June 28 legal and constitutional. Mack, who, along with his Republican colleague Rep. Brian Bilbray of California, returned from a July 25-26 weekend trip to the country, said Zelaya “is playing a game here and [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez is pulling the strings.”

The bill supporters are currently engaged in a race for broader support, as 630 currently has 44 co-signers—mostly a liberal coalition of minorities and their supporters—while 619 has 41 co-signers—conservative Cuban exiles and their allies. [The Hill, 7/28/09; Huffington Post, 7/28/09; Library of Congress, H. Res. 619; Library of Congress, H. Res. 630; The Hill, 7/28]

8. Honduran Congress members “deliberately kept out of legislative session” that ousted Zelaya

A growing number of Honduran congressional deputies are speaking out against the coup and affirming that they did not participate in the June 28 vote—initially reported as nearly unanimous—to remove President Manuel Zelaya from office and instate Roberto Micheletti, the congressional president, in his stead. In a July 26 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a group of five representatives, including Copán deputy Elvia Valle, wrote, “We and other members of Congress were deliberately kept out of the legislative session which ousted President Zelaya. We were first informed that there would be no session that day, and a small group of us was notified that a session would be taking place at the very last minute, with full knowledge that we were then at great distances from the capital city.” Honduran Ambassador to the U.S. Enrique Reina and Armando Sarmiento, former Director of the Honduran Tax and Customs Bureau, told MISF at least 26 deputies were not present for the vote, while another who was present did not provide a “yes” vote but was counted as such.

Those 27 representatives signed their names to a follow-up letter to the U.S. Congress on Aug. 3, denouncing the dismissal of Zelaya, the denial of due process to Zelaya, the prevention of their participation in the vote, and the use of “progressive and systematic” repression and intimidation tactics against deputies speaking out against the coup. Comprising 20 Liberal Party members, five from the Democratic Union Party, and two from the Christian Democracy Party, the group noted that they “represent a broad slice of the political spectrum in Honduras—from former close allies of Roberto Micheletti, the de facto head of state, to strong supporters of Preseident Zelaya’s party and members of other political parties.” The group wrote in its July 26 letter, “In our country the coup not only turned back time several decades, to an era when it was common practice for the military to overthrow presidents, but it also sent us back to a time when civil liberties were systematically violated in the name of national security.” [MISF interview with Ambassador Enrique Reina and Armando Sarmiento; Honduran deputies’ July 26 letter to Clinton and Aug. 3 letter to U.S. Congress (Editor’s note: images of letters will be added to mayispeakfreely.org soon)]

9. Excerpt of July 21 letter from Manuel Zelaya to Barack Obama

“… I call upon the Honorable President Barack Obama to take concrete action aimed at restoring the constitutional order of the Republic of Honduras and ending the violations of human rights and the bloody repression of the people who are in the streets demanding justice by DECLARING the consequent state of emergency, prohibiting bank transactions and canceling the visas of the conspirators and those directly responsible for my absuction and the interruption of constitutional order in my country, designating them as “Specially Designated Persons” and adding them to the Executive Order 13224 of the United States of America, the following individuals: The High Command of the Armed Forces of Honduras presided over by Division General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and composed of Brigadier General Miguel Angel Garcia Padget, in his rank of General Commander of the Army, Commander General of the Navy, Rear Admiral Juan Pablo Rodriguez R., an Brigadier General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, Commander General of the Airforce; the directorate of the National Congress of Honduras presided over by Roberto Micheletti Bain, and composed of Jose Alfredo Saavedra, Toribio Aquilera, Ramon Velazquez Nassar, Marcia Facusse de Villeda, Rolando Dubon Bueso and Antonio Rivera Callejas; Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi, and Public Prosecutor Rosa America Miranda.” [Translation by Embassy of Honduras, Washington, D.C.; text provided to MISF by Honduran Ambassador Eduardo Enrique Reina]

10. Human rights ombudsman Ramón Custodio censured by international human rights advocates

A group of Latin American, North American and European human rights lawyers, in a July 1 letter to the Federation of Iberoamerican Ombudsmen (FIO), denounced Honduran Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio for endorsing the coup and failing to defend human rights in the country. Custodio is the Honduran representative to the FIO. The letter called for an investigation into Custodio’s actions and that he be urged to “fulfill his constitutional duty to defend and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law because, with his actions and omissions, he has discredited and delegitimized the institutional figure of the ombudsman and the Iberoamerican Federation of Ombudsmen.”

On July 27, Nicaraguan human rights prosecutor and FIO President Omar Cabezas announced the opening of an office in Nicaragua to receive complaints of human rights violations by the de facto government in Honduras. He said the office was needed because Custodio “is supporting the coup government and is not assuming his duties.” (La Opinión reported Aug. 3 that Custodio had been expelled from the FIO, while La Journada reported that he had been expelled from the International Federation of Human Rights; however, the claims are in question, as neither organization appears to have made public statements to that effect.)

An open letter to Custodio, dated July 26, from former friend and colleague Knut Rauchfuss of the NGO Justice is Health, based in Bochum, Germany, went further in explaining why Custodio’s international peers—and many Honduras human rights figures—were so disappointed with him. “You are no longer a fighter for human rights,” Rauchfuss wrote, “but rather an accomplice to lies and brutality, an accomplice to military men and assasins. Each day, another [news] article appears, where my old friend Ramón Custodio presents himself as custodian to the Honduran ruling class and its military coup, articles in which you present yourself publicly exonerating soldiers who killed protesters, and letters in which you deny that political prisoners exist and in which you exonerate, too, the torturer Billy Joya. Where is the Ramón Custodio who agreed with the principles of justice and humanity? Where is the Ramón who respected human dignity?” [Editor’s note: Joya, a former Honduran Army captain, has assumed the role of security adviser in Micheletti’s cabinet. Joya is accused of the illegal detention, torture and murder of civilians in the 1980s, when he was a commanding officer in the military intelligence Batallion 3-16.]

Custodio is also one of the officials whose U.S. visa was revoked. (See story above.) In response to U.S. State Department’s action he said, “I prefer to die with dignity in Honduras before being subjected to blackmail and coercion.” During the 1980s, as president of the NGO Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, Custodio actively spoke out against illegal detentions, disappearances and the government’s failure to abide by its own constitutional guarantees, and he advocated on behalf of victims and their families. [Rauchfuss letter via Listas RDS-HN, 7/27/09; La Prensa, 7/30/09]

11. San José Accord still on table, but conflicts loom large

Talks between the two Honduran governments—that of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and of de facto President Roberto Michelleti—as mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, have taken a tumultuous course over the past few weeks, breaking off several times before reaching a near agreement late last week. The latest proposal, dubbed the San José Accord for the Costa Rican city by that same name, consists of 12 points:

(1) power sharing under a unity government, accepting the recently passed general budget; (2) a general amnesty for political offenses regarding the conflict, and general delay of any lawsuits extending six months; (3) renunciation of a poll or any other act regarding a Constitutional Assembly; (4) moving up elections by a month to Oct. 29; agreeing to international monitoring from now until transfer of power in January; (5) affirming neutrality of armed forces and requesting their assistance with electoral monitoring; (6) return of powers of state to their pre-June 28 status, with Zelaya as president; (7) establishing a verification commission, presided over by the Organization of American States, to make sure the accord is followed, as well as a truth commission, led by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to clarify the deeds that occurred before and after June 28; (8) normalization of status between Honduras and the international community; (9) accord effective at the moment of signing; (10) differences in interpretation will be taken up by the verification commission; (11) setting forth a calendar for all steps to take place; (12) commitment to execute accord in good faith.

On July 25, the Honduran military issued a statement that it supported this plan and would not stand in the way of Zelaya entering the country with the accord in place. This move seemed to provide an opening for Micheletti to consider it, which he indeed did signal in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on July 27. On July 30, the New York Times reported unnamed officials as saying that Michelleti had called President Arias the previous day to express his support for the San Jose Accord. There was even movement in the Honduran Congress to study the proposal with the expectation of a quick resolution. Zelaya has already agreed to the accord. In July 29 broadcast on San Pedro Sula TV station, he said, “To avoid going against the Arias plan, we will change strategy [on Constitutional reform], but reform is still coming.”

On July 31, however, Michelleti dashed any glimmer of hope by issuing a statement, which said, in part, “We respect many of the points of the agreement but we do not accept some of them like the return of Mr. Zelaya. We don’t accept it in this country under any circumstance. If he wants to come back he can, but only if he faces trial.” A high-ranking diplomatic mission is slated to travel to Honduras in an effort to persuade the interim government to accept all 12 points of the plan.

The diplomatic drama took place against the backdrop of developments on the ground, which might have complicated negotiations. On July 24, Zelaya, along with a throng of supporters gathered at the Nicaraguan border, briefly crossed over into Honduras soil in defiance of the military, which had threatened his arrest if he did so. The event, which drew thousands of supporters defying curfews and making their way through the jungle, drew the ire of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called the move “reckless.” Many Zelaya supporters still remain just over the border in Nicaragua in camps, where Zelaya is reportedly preparing a “popular militia” to guard him when he returns to the country for good.

Meanwhile, the Honduran Public Ministry has filed charges against Zelaya and his former minister of the presidency, Enrique Flores Lanza, for the falsification of documents in connection with an investigation of illegal use of funds for publicity spending, presumably connected to the “cuarta urna” opinion poll to have been conducted on June 28. The charges include a request for an arrest warrant for the deposed president. [NY Times, 7/19/09; NY Times, 7/23/09; NY Times, 7/25/09; NY Times, 7/26/09; Wall St. Journal, 7/27/09; Huffington Post, 7/27/09; NY Times, 7/27/09; Bloomberg, 7/29/09; Proceso Digital, 7/30/09; Proceso Digital, 7/30/09; NY Times, 7/30/09; La Tribuna, 7/30/09; NY Times, 7/31/09; Washington Post, 7/31/09; AFP, 8/1/09]

12. Elite Honduran business interests flex behind-the-scenes power in de facto government

A recent article in The American Prospect revealed that Lanny Davis, chief U.S. lobbyist and public-relations strategist for the pro-coup forces in Honduras, is being paid by members of the Honduras chapter of the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL), including his main contacts, Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati. Atala and Canahuati are two of eight extremely powerful families in Honduras, who together control much of the country’s media outlets and other business interests. According to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras, CEAL is a continuation of the same core group of business, political and military interests that during the 1980s comprised the Alliance for Progress and Development of Honduras, an anti-Communist group closely tied to the military that COFADEH and other human rights organizations consider a principal actor behind the infamous military intelligence Battalion 3-16 of that era, believed to have functioned as a death squad.

In a July 30 New York Times article revealing de facto President Roberto Michelleti’s brief flirtation with accepting the San José Accord, which would allow the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, unnamed sources were quoted as saying that Michelleti faced stiff opposition from these elite business interests in welcoming Zelaya back to the country. Michelleti issued a statement the following day unequivocally stating that his government was no longer considering any resolution that would bring Zelaya back, citing internal resources and “private companies” who had agreed to “freeze prices on the basic basket of goods … for as long as is necessary,” as a firewall against international isolation and pressure to do otherwise.

Those private companies do not include some major apparel manufacturers with interests in the country, including Nike, the Adidas Group, The Gap and Knight’s Apparel, who on July 28 issued a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a restoration of democracy in Honduras. [American Prospect, 7/22/09; Nike, 7/27/09; All Headline News, 7/28/09; NY Times, 7/30/09; NY Times, 7/31/09]

13. “Cuarta urna” proposals had raised hopes among Honduras’ marginalized communities

The Honduran military recently made available on its Web site an extensive pdf document, which—in the midst of 156 pages listing pre-coup timelines, justifications for military and court actions to remove Manuel Zelaya from power, and miscellaneous legal documents—included a publicity flyer, apparently from the campaign to rally support for Zelaya’s “cuarta urna” opinion poll that was slated to have taken place on June 28. With no mention of a call to extend presidential term limits, the flier included a list of proposed changes the Zelaya government had hoped to introduce in the event a constitutional assembly was called to order. Among the 10 points listed were the promotion women’s rights, “guarantees of a multicultural and pluri-ethnic society,” and political reforms that would have allowed for more minority representation in government. Ironically—since a key criticism of the process was the perception of Zelaya’s desire to hold on to power—one of the points allowed for midterm votes of confidence for local, congressional and presidential representatives.

Beyond coup d’etat or rule of law, Zelaya or Michelleti, the promise of constitutional reform reportedly struck a chord with many disempowered communities, especially the Garifuna population, an ethnic subgroup descended from Amerindian and African people, of which there are roughly 400,000 in Honduras. Garifuna community activist Alfredo López told the Miami Herald, “We have no political visibility in this country and that makes us extremely vulnerable. The constitutional assembly would have given us a chance to change that.” For some Garifuna, Zelaya’s ouster meant dashed hopes, which is why they said they were marching not necessarily in support of Zelaya, but for a change in the status quo. According to Carlos Mauricio Palacios, a historian who has worked with indigenous communities, “[The constitutional assembly] was important, not just for the Garifunas, but all the minority communities. This was a chance to secure rights that have long been denied to them.'” [Documento Auditoría Jurídico Militar de las FFAA Sobre Sucesión Presidencial en Honduras, PDF; Honduras Coup 2009, 7/27/09; Miami Herald, 7/22/09]

14. Kidnapped journalist found dead

On July 8, the body of reporter Bernardo Rivera was found buried on a mountainside in the Copán region. Rivera, a former congressional deputy, was kidnapped on March 14 and apparently died in an escape attempt sometime in April. The NGO Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning the events, adding that the Honduran government had taken too long in coming to grips with the seriousness of the crime wave sweeping the country. [La Tribuna, 7/13/09; La Tribuna, 7/13/09; previous story: HNR, 5/1-31/09]

15. Other news in brief

Shortly after the events of June 28, the Honduran Foreign Ministry ordered all its diplomats home, and the ambassador to the United States, Roberto Flores Bermudez, complied, saying “This is not a coup d’etat, but rather a process in which a judicial order has been carried out.” Eduardo Enrique Reina, a former vice minister of foreign relations and private secretary to Honduras’s ousted president, presented himself on July 16 as Zelaya’s ambassador to the country. [Miami Herald, 7/3/09; The Hill, 7/16/09] Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, minister of culture under the Zelaya administration who fled to Mexico after hiding in Honduras for seven days following the coup, and Enrique Reina, the new ambassador to the United States, reported that some ministers’ personal bank accounts and credit cards were frozen for more than a week following the coup. [MISF interviews with Fasquelle and Reina]

For background information on the June 28 coup, along with links to original Honduran government documents, read our Backgrounder: Making Sense of the Honduran Coup.

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Filed under ENGLISH, human rights & repression, international coverage, news & updates from Honduras

[en] Counterpunch: The Coup and the U.S. Airbase in Honduras

July 4th at the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo: Sandra Cuffe[July 4th at Toncontin airport, Tegucigalpa. Photo: Sandra Cuffe]

[http://www.counterpunch.org/kozloff07222009.html]

Zelaya, Negroponte and the Controversy at Soto Cano

The Coup and the U.S. Airbase in Honduras

By NIKOLAS KOZLOFF

The mainstream media has once again dropped the ball on a key aspect of the ongoing story in Honduras: the U.S. airbase at Soto Cano, also known as Palmerola.  Prior to the recent military coup d’etat President Manuel Zelaya declared that he would turn the base into a civilian airport, a move opposed by the former U.S. ambassador.  What’s more Zelaya intended to carry out his project with Venezuelan financing.

For years prior to the coup the Honduran authorities had discussed the possibility of converting Palmerola into a civilian facility.  Officials fretted that Toncontín, Tegucigalpa’s international airport, was too small and incapable of handling large commercial aircraft.  An aging facility dating to 1948, Toncontín has a short runway and primitive navigation equipment.  The facility is surrounded by hills which makes it one of the world’s more dangerous international airports.

Palmerola by contrast has the best runway in the country at 8,850 feet long and 165 feet wide.  The airport was built more recently in the mid-1980s at a reported cost of $30 million and was used by the United States for supplying the Contras during America’s proxy war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua as well as conducting counter-insurgency operations in El Salvador.  At the height of the Contra war the U.S. had more than 5,000 soldiers stationed at Palmerola.  Known as the Contras’ “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” the base housed Green Berets as well as CIA operatives advising the Nicaraguan rebels.

More recently there have been some 500-to-600 U.S. troops on hand at the facility which serves as a Honduran air force base as well as a flight-training center.  With the exit of U.S. bases from Panama in 1999, Palmerola became one of the few usable airfields available to the U.S. on Latin American soil.  The base is located approximately 30 miles north of the capital Tegucigalpa.

In 2006 it looked as if Zelaya and the Bush administration were nearing a deal on Palmerola’s future status.  In June of that year Zelaya flew to Washington to meet President Bush and the Honduran requested that Palmerola be converted into a commercial airport.  Reportedly Bush said the idea was “wholly reasonable” and Zelaya declared that a four-lane highway would be constructed from Tegucigalpa to Palmerola with U.S. funding.

In exchange for the White House’s help on the Palmerola facility Zelaya offered the U.S. access to a new military installation to be located in the Mosquitia area along the Honduran coast near the Nicaraguan border.  Mosquitia reportedly serves as a corridor for drugs moving south to north.  The drug cartels pass through Mosquitia with their cargo en route from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

A remote area only accessible by air, sea, and river Mosquitia is full of swamp and jungle.  The region is ideal for the U.S. since large numbers of troops may be housed in Mosquitia in relative obscurity.  The coastal location was ideally suited for naval and air coverage consistent with the stated U.S. military strategy of confronting organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism.  Romeo Vásquez, head of the Honduran Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked that the armed forces needed to exert a greater presence in Mosquitia because the area was full of “conflict and problems.”

But what kind of access would the U.S. have to Mosquitia?  Honduran Defense Secretary Aristides Mejía said that Mosquitia wouldn’t necessarily be “a classic base with permanent installations, but just when needed. We intend, if President Zelaya approves, to expand joint operations [with the United States].”  That statement however was apparently not to the liking of eventual coup leader and U.S. School of the Americas graduate Vásquez who had already traveled to Washington to discuss future plans for Mosquitia.  Contradicting his own colleague, Vásquez said the idea was “to establish a permanent military base of ours in the zone” which would house aircraft and fuel supply systems.  The United States, Vásquez added, would help to construct air strips on site.

Events on the ground meanwhile would soon force the Hondurans to take a more assertive approach towards air safety.  In May, 2008 a terrible crash occurred at Toncontín airport when a TACA Airbus A320 slid off the runway on its second landing attempt.  After mowing down trees and smashing through a metal fence, the airplane’s fuselage was broken into three parts near the airstrip.  Three people were killed in the crash and 65 were injured.

In the wake of the tragedy Honduran officials were forced at long last to block planes from landing at the notoriously dangerous Toncontín.  All large jets, officials said, would be temporarily transferred to Palmerola.  Touring the U.S. airbase himself Zelaya remarked that the authorities would create a new civilian facility at Palmerola within sixty days.  Bush had already agreed to let Honduras construct a civilian airport at Palmerola, Zelaya said.  “There are witnesses,” the President added.

But constructing a new airport had grown more politically complicated.  Honduran-U.S. relations had deteriorated considerably since Zelaya’s 2006 meeting with Bush and Zelaya had started to cultivate ties to Venezuela while simultaneously criticizing the American-led war on drugs.

Bush’s own U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford said that while he would welcome the traffic at Palmerola past agreements should be honored.  The base was used mostly for drug surveillance planes and Ford remarked that “The president can order the use of Palmerola when he wants, but certain accords and protocols must be followed.”  “It is important to point out that Toncontín is certified by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” Ford added, hoping to allay long-time concerns about the airport’s safety.  What’s more, the diplomat declared, there were some airlines that would not see Palmerola as an “attractive” landing destination.  Ford would not elaborate or explain what his remarks were supposed to mean.

Throwing fuel on the fire Assistant Secretary of State John Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, said that Honduras could not transform Palmerola into a civilian airport “from one day to the next.”  In Tegucigalpa, Negroponte met with Zelaya to discuss Palmerola.  Speaking later on Honduran radio the U.S. diplomat said that before Zelaya could embark on his plans for Palmerola the airport would have to receive international certification for new incoming flights.  According to Spanish news agency EFE Negroponte also took advantage of his Tegucigalpa trip to sit down and meet with the President of the Honduran Parliament and future coup leader Roberto Micheletti [the news account however did not state what the two discussed].

Needless to say Negroponte’s visit to Honduras was widely repudiated by progressive and human rights activists who labeled Negroponte “an assassin” and accused him of being responsible for forced disappearances during the diplomat’s tenure as ambassador (1981-1985).  Moreover, Ford and Negroponte’s condescending attitude irked organized labor, indigenous groups and peasants who demanded that Honduras reclaim its national sovereignty over Palmerola.  “It’s necessary to recover Palmerola because it’s unacceptable that the best airstrip in Central America continues to be in the hands of the U.S. military,” said Carlos Reyes, leader of the Popular Bloc which included various politically progressive organizations.  “The Cold War has ended and there are no pretexts to continue with the military presence in the region,” he added.  The activist remarked that the government should not contemplate swapping Mosquitia for Palmerola either as this would be an affront to Honduran pride.

Over the next year Zelaya sought to convert Palmerola into a civilian airport but plans languished when the government was unable to attract international investors.  Finally in 2009 Zelaya announced that the Honduran armed forces would undertake construction.  To pay for the new project the President would rely on funding from ALBA [in English, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas] and Petrocaribe, two reciprocal trading agreements pushed by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.  Predictably the Honduran right leapt on Zelaya for using Venezuelan funds.  Amílcar Bulnes, President of the Honduran Business Association [known by its Spanish acronym COHEP] said that Petrocaribe funds should not be used for the airport but rather for other, unspecified needs.

A couple weeks after Zelaya announced that the armed forces would proceed with construction at Palmerola the military rebelled.  Led by Romeo Vásquez, the army overthrew Zelaya and deported him out of the country.  In the wake of the coup U.S. peace activists visited Palmerola and were surprised to find that the base was busy and helicopters were flying all around.  When activists asked American officials if anything had changed in terms of the U.S.-Honduran relationship they were told “no, nothing.”

The Honduran elite and the hard right U.S. foreign policy establishment had many reasons to despise Manuel Zelaya as I’ve discussed in previous articles.  The controversy over the Palmerola airbase however certainly gave them more ammunition.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008)

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Filed under ENGLISH, human rights & repression, international coverage

[es/en] en/in El Paraiso: Cuerpo de participante en resistencia hallado cerca del reten / Cadaver of protestor found near military roadblock

July 25 julio. El Paraiso. PEDRO MANDIEL

El Paraiso, July 25 de julio.

texto & fotos: Sandra Cuffe.

text & photos: Sandra Cuffe

Hoy a esto de las 8:50am de la manana, a media cuadra del reten militar y policial y la protesta en la carretera hacia la frontera Las Manos, fue descubierto el cadaver de un hombre joven.

This morning, at approximately 8:50am, half a block away from the military/police roadblock and the protest along the highway leading towards the Nicaraguan border crossing near Las Manos, the cadaver of a young man was found.

Periodistas y manifestantes en el lugar reconocieron al joven como un participante en varias marchas y movilizaciones en contra del Golpe de Estado en Honduras. Ha sido identificado como PEDRO MAGDIEL MUNOZ SALVADOR de la Colonia San Francisco de Tegucigalpa.

Journalists and demonstrators recognized the man as having participated in several marches and protests against the coup d’etat in Honduras. He has been identified as PEDRO MAGDIEL MUNOZ SALVADOR from the San Francisco neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa.

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A pocos metros de su cuerpo, se hallaron una pequena mochila y una camiseta color rojo. Igualmente, cerca en la misma propiedad se hallaron un celular botado en la hierba pantanosa y un cuchillo en el cemento que se usa para caminar por la propiedad.

A small backpack and red t-shirt were found only a few meters away from Munoz’ body. Further away, there was a cell phone in the swampy grass and a knife along a narrow cement strip commonly used as a walkway through the muddy property.

July 25 julio. El Paraiso. foto/photo: Sandra Cuffe

El sentimiento expresado por muchos manifestantes en el lugar era de rabia, dolor, y determinacion para seguir sus acciones en contra del Golpe de Estado, a favor del regreso del Presidente elegido Manuel Zelaya, y para la justicia y democracia en Honduras.

The feelings expressed by many protestors at the scene were of rage, grief, and determination to continue their actions against the coup d’etat, for the return of elected President Manuel Zelaya, and for justice and democracy in Honduras.

– Sandra Cuffe, sandra.m.cuffe@gmail.com

Manifestante hallado muerto en El Paraiso / Protestor found dead in El Paraiso

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Filed under comunicados, derechos humanos & represion, ESPANOL, noticias desde Honduras