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OFRANEH: ALERT, April 7: Eviction in the Garifuna community of Punta Gorda, Roatan

ALERT: Eviction in the Garifuna community of Punta Gorda, Roatan.

At the request of the Military Social Security Institute [Instituto de Prevision Militar, IPM, which owns several businesses], agents from the Ministry of Security are right now carrying out an eviction in the island community of Punta Gorda, Roatan.

The more than 40 families that are being violently evicted live in the neighbourhood known as Punta Gorda, located in the community of the same name. It is outrageous that that while the State of Honduras boasts about a policy of inclusion and makes an ostentatious show of its celebration of the International Year of Afro-Descendants, the armed forces order the Ministry of Security to carry out an eviction.

As Garifuna, we find ourselves suffering a second expulsion from the Caribbean. In just a few days, on April 12th, the arrival of our People to Honduras will be commemorated, specifically marking our arrival to the island of Roatan, after our forced displacement by the British from the island of Saint Vincent in 1797.

The pressures on our territory that our People suffer are rooted in the speculation by the tourism industry. Projects such as Banana Coast, Laguna de Micos, and in a not-so-distant future the so-called Model City have precipitated an onslaught of evictions in Punta Gorda and in the majority of coastal communities, which are the aim of businesspeople, politicians and armed forces, taking advantage of the vast judicial void that exists in Honduras.

Since the coup d’etat in 2009, the pressures on Garifuna territory have intensified. The eviction in Punta Gorda is part of the “Christian humanism” of the current administration, which uses violence in an attempt to impose its vision of a “democracy” of the few associated with the party in power.

The Garifuna of Punta Gorda lack a land deed for their territory, despite dancing to the tune of numerous governmental administrations over the years – administrations that tend to celebrate the anniversary of our arrival to Honduras in Punta Gorda with rituals of power.

How will the State of Honduras and its kindred organizations explain this eviction at the Afro-Descendant summit they plan to hold this August? Basta Ya – enough! – of the expulsion of the Garifuna People of Honduras.

La Ceiba, April 7, 2011.

OFRANEH

Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH
Tel: (504) 4420618, (504) 4500058
Av 14 julio, calle 19, Contiguo Vivero Flor Tropical, Barrio Alvarado, La Ceiba, Honduras
email: garifuna@ofraneh.org, ofraneh@yahoo.com

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[en] Margaret Thompson: Media Ignores Escalating Sexual Aggression Against Honduran Woman Protesters

Women in Resistance!, Tegucigalpa, July 3, 2009. Photo: Sandra Cuffe

Escalating Sexual Aggression Against Feminist And Women Protesters Against Military Coup In Honduras Ignored By Global & National Media

By Margaret Thompson
FIRE – Feminist International Radio Endeavour/Radio Internacional Feminista

August 17, 2009 – Tegucigalpa, Honduras — Global & national media are ignoring the growing intensity of sexual aggression and torture of women demonstrators in Honduras after the military coup d’etat & and violent repression, according to Honduran feminists and activists.

“The media (in Honduras) are manipulating our minds, because we see (in the streets) what is really happening” and they are not reporting the reality of the violent repression by the military and police, declared Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the first lady of Honduras and wife of Pres. Zelaya, who spoke to a Forum by Feminists in Resistance of Honduras today. Most of the mainstream media are owned by supporters of the military coup, so their reports reflect efforts by the defacto regime to create an image of “normality,” that all is well, that there was in fact no military coup, they merely ousted an ex-president who violated the constitution, according to Castro de Zelaya.

The first lady spoke to an audience of about 120 mainly women, including an international delegation from Central America, Mexico, Canada, Spain and the United States participating in a Feminist Transgressional Watch . The group is visiting Honduras for Women’s Human Rights Week, and conducting a feminist observatory of violations of women’s human rights, and feminist strategies of resistance to the military coup.

As popular resistance to the military coup continues with massive daily street marches, military and police officials are becoming more aggressive with both female and male demonstrators, beating them with clubs, shooting into crowds with (rubber or real) bullets, conducting large scale arrests or detentions, torture, and assassinations, little of which is covered in many media reports, said Indira Mendoza of Catrachas. Mendoza has videotaped some of these incidents directly or has testimony of witnesses. Hospitals and clinics are filled with young people in particular, with broken arm or leg bones, head injuries, and (rubber) bullet wounds.

Women’s and human rights groups are receiving reports of escalating sexual aggression against women both in the demonstrations and in detentions, ranging from verbal obscenities and threats, to women being grabbed or beaten with batons on their buttocks, to torture and rape in detentions, noted Adela Coria of the Center for Women’s Studies (CEM). In today’s Forum in Tegucigalpa, Yadida Minero reported that she had just taken a young woman to a radio station to denounce her torture and rape with a rifle while in detention at a police station.

Likewise, in the United States, the diminishing number of media reports on Honduras reflect how Pres. Obama led by Secretary State Hillary Clinton is backing away from his originally strong condemnation of the coup which ousted the legally elected President Zelaya, according to Breny Mendoza, a Honduran living in the US, and professor at California State University in Northridge. The intensive US news coverage and outrage in the US mainstream media about the controversial presidential elections in Iran is a stark contrast to the minimal coverage of the military coup in Honduras which ousted a democratically elected president. And the front and center role of women including feminists in the massive demonstrations, and the increasingly aggressive reaction of military and police to the women are also absent in media reports.

Despite the growing sexual aggression against women in Honduras, they are not filing complaints with the police for a number of reasons. Sara Rosales, a human rights lawyer with CEM, noted that women are afraid to report any violence since it is the police and military who are in part responsible for the violent repression, and the women also figure that such efforts are futile, because nothing will come of it.

After years of national and global campaigns about domestic violence, complaints filed by women had been increasing in recent years, says Rosales, also a member of Feminists in Resistance in Honduras.
There were 12,000 complaints filed with police in Honduras denouncing violence against women in 2007, and 20,000 reports last year, noted Rosales. But since the coup there have been very few complaints filed, which clearly demonstrates the connection between domestic violence and violence against women in armed conflict, both of which have increased in recent weeks.

Also, feminists and women’s activists are very disheartened that the de facto coup government kicked out the Minister of Women under Pres. Zelaya, Selma Estrada de Uclés in late June with the coup, and installed María Martha Díaz, a member of the ultra conservative Catholic group Opus Dei. Díaz has refused to process any complaints filed regarding violations of women’s human rights since the coup.

When feminists rallied outside the Institute of Women (INAM) to protest the policies of Díaz as de facto minister, she called in the military, who beat the protesters with batons.

Women are well aware of the irony of this assault. Years of struggle by feminists and other women is now lost, said Rosales. “It all changed in one day,” noted Breny Mendoza, a professor at California State University in Northridge and originally from Honduras.

Honduran feminists and investigators have received a vast number of complaints about violations of women’s human rights by the current coup regime in the past six weeks, and have conducted interviews for testimonies of 18 women. As part of the feminist observatory, human rights lawyers and activists are working with Honduran feminists to prepare a report on these 18 cases, which were presented to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, which is also visiting Honduras during the week of August 17th.

In the meantime, women including Feminists in Resistance are continuing to be front and center in the marches. “No more coups (golpes), and no more golpes (beatings) of women!” shout the women as they take to the streets. “Quien somos? Somos Feministas en Resistencia!”

###

US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton has refused to declare the siege a coup d’etat. Some say that this is because it would mean cutting all military and economic aid, beyond the small amount frozen in early July. And Clinton, along with US Sen. John McCain recently met with de facto coup Pres. Michelleti in Washington, who had come to meet with members of Congress as well to convince them that all is well in Honduras. Clinton is also on the board of the Millennium Development Corporation, which has continued to distribute millions of dollars to Honduras since the coup, according to Bill Conroy, as published in The Narcosphere on August 9, 2009.

Margie Thompson is a member of an international delegation that is in Honduras this week (August 17-21) conducting a local and virtual Observatorio de la Transgresión Feminista (Feminist Transformation Watch) to shed light on women’s rights violations that are occurring under the de facto regime that overthrew the democratically elected president in a coup d’etat on June 28th. For more information visit http://www.justassociates.org/actions/honduras_action_coup.html.

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[en] Allan McDonald: ‘Rubber Man’ – a narrative article about Dr. Ramon Custodio Lopez

Were they RUBBER bullets, Custodio? photo: Sandra CuffeWere they RUBBER bullets, Custodio? (photo: Sandra Cuffe)

******************************************************

Rubber Man*

by Allan McDonald

(translation by Doug Zylstra)

dedicated to Abril


Before, when life was not yet in fashion, and the world was simply a road of drab brown stones, those were the years of the olive green jeep, Garduna chocolates, the Alliance for Progress which came to us as powdered milk for the poor children in my school, those were the fabulous ’80s, the years when I would leave my house to fly kites against the wind that ran rampant through the sky, and listened to the older folks speak of a certain Custodio, a man of steel tempered by the heroism of openly taking the military to task and being our defender, the handkerchief to wipe the tears of a wounded democracy in that green era.

Time evaporated like a sunrise and we survived, like crabs on a beach of dead Pelicans, all of us who crossed the border of hope trying to arrive at the decade of the ’90s.

I had just turned 17, a cartoonist from the very beginning and already working in the newspaper, publishing my daily cartoon, as always, and my humor page every Saturday, believing persistently that the destiny of rebellion points us toward the utopia of a better county. I have always thought that, always. And then one memorable afternoon, one of those so memorable that you store it away in the warehouse of the soul so that it can never be forgotten, I found myself walking through Barrio Los Dolores, on my way to the archives of the Committee for the Defense of Human Right, CODEH, which in those days was located there, where the shouts of frustrated market vendors mixed with the prayers of the church nearby, that other market of dried-out crucifixes.

I entered CODEH, and asked for help regarding some research I was doing on old cartoons. Looking through the yellowing papers, dust and light that seemed a storehouse of memories, I suddenly came face to face with Dr. Ramon Custodio, the legendary old man, with his mustache, like a leaf tangled up in the roots of its own tree, woven deeply into the skin of his battle-seasoned face. His being seemed centered on the movement of his hands that were tucked into his gray pants pockets, his white guayabera and his middle-aged hair flying like a suicidal seagull. He stuck his hand out. “Hey there, young man,” he said, “I’ve been hoping to meet you for while now, say hello, share a coffee and talk about your work…” His words were tired, yet full of sincerity. We sat, talking about the difficult things going on in the country, the confusing transition from the political crisis to the economic one. Those were the years of Callejas, of corruption throughout the country. It seemed odd to him that, me still being only a teenager, in the year 1990, we could talk as in one of those old tales of old men and young kids. Saying goodbye, using the excuse of a made-up appointment, the Doctor put his hand on my shoulder and spoke the difficult words of a kind grandfather to his troublemaking grandson. I will never forget them:

“Look here, son, do you have kids?” I said no. Imagining my emotional lapses in the midst of a lost heart, I could never even dream of having one of my own. “Look, today you are a good cartoonist, strong, rebellious, but tomorrow, when you have your own children, you’re going to forget about all this, and you’ll think about normal things, about how to feed your kids, you’ll see.” He turned around and disappeared into the artificial light, between the dust and the papers which flew about like a forgotten carousel.

It’s been almost 20 years since the day that I met with Don Ramon Custodio, and life went on for each of us, him doing his things and me, mine. I drew him a couple of times when he launched his independent candidacy for the Presidency. He failed to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot, a pantomime of democracy deemed necessary to enter the circus. Then I saw him one day in Technicolor in the Congress, raising his right hand in front of the group of flunkies that had picked him as the new National Commissioner on Human Rights, the class that detested him, that hated him, that had even put a price on his head; they were now giving him the prize for what the Doctor knew by memory, if not by feel.

Today, there are no words, no excuses, no curious young men, nor learned doctors. Today, in this de facto country, we are now face to face in the street, each with the peace of his dignity weighed down, those of us who march in the light of victory of true democracy of both struggles and noble acts to defend a lost homeland and those who shut themselves in their offices with fine mahogany desks, with drawers full of the moist dust of nostalgia fallen into disuse and the photo of our elected president taken down, ripped off the wall with servility, and with a new photo up, this time our spurious one. Behind is the flag, blue and white, hanging humbly on its pole, that simple flag which wraps itself around both the blind and the dumb, the lepers and the heroes who have fallen, face-forward, to the somber riot of resentment.

And now, there’s the doctor on TV, all channels roadblocked with his press conference. He looks out, he whose face no longer even appears in the files of the CIA, saying that the dead don’t exist, that the army uses only rubber bullets, that the innocence of the men of honor is evident, that perhaps it was a clumsy revolutionary type, someone who believes in that pale promise of homeland that shot a communist bullet and killed the young man at the airport. My friends- I, who have never touched a gun, who have never put up a photo of any president behind my desk, who have always drawn face-forward, I got up, scared, and ran to the crib of of young daughter, the girl that the doctor talked about 20 years ago, my little Abril. I covered her with my hands, I hugged her, I sang her a lullaby, I covered her eyes so that she would not see the man who I had so deeply admired and tell her that the doctor had once said: “Look, young man, when you have children, you’ll see things differently.” And it’s true, I do think differently; with my daughter as counterweight, I should be rebellious, and I should have dignity until the end, so as not to become that man of rubber, no longer of steel, and that when the years go by, and my Abril begins to fly kites, she will think of me as the the man who did not betray her. It will rain on her that day, and she will not feel sad. And by then, my daughter will have a new country.

Allan McDonald

# # #

* Note by Sandra Cuffe:

The title may not be immediately clear for those who have not been following events in Honduras extremely closely. Shortly after theHonduran Armed Forces snipers and soldiers fired live rounds of ammunition with rifles and machine guns into the unarmed multitude of protestors at the airport in Tegucigalpa on July 5th, 2009, killing 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo and wounding several others, longtime State Human Rights Commissioner Doctor Ramon Custodio Lopez stated to the media that only RUBBER bullets had been used…

* Note by Adrienne Pine, who published this translation on her blog, http://quotha.net/:

For those who missed it: Political cartoonist Allan McDonald was one of the first individuals attacked by the coup regime; his house was ransacked and his cartoons burnt by the military one day after the coup. He was kidnapped by the military with this 17-month old daughter, Abril, and held incommunicado without food for over 24 hours before being released. See a photostream of his recent cartoons here.

Translator’s note:

Don Ramon Custodio was inaugurated as Commissioner on Human Rights in Honduras in 2008. He has come out in favor of the Micheletti Government on what he says are “anti-establishment grounds’, and many of his statements have been both a severe disappointment to the Honduran People who most are in need of a voice to declaim the Human Rights abuses of the de Facto government and a mechanism utilized by the Micheletti government to support their claims to constitutionality and legitimacy. His diplomatic visa was revoked two weeks ago by the US Department of State.

www.hondurascoup2009.blogspot.com has wonderful post/analysis of Don Ramon here.

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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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[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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