Nov 30, 2009

Honduran "Electoral Observers" Launch Verbal Attack on Americas Program Director

I have been here in Honduras watching the development of the elections since Friday, Nov. 27. Last night I gave a television interview to an international agency. A group of credentialed elections observers gathered around and immediately began yelling insults at me when we finished the filming. I am attaching a letter to the U.S. Embassy that I sent last night. These are the highlights of what occurred:
  • Supposedly impartial observers call for me to be thrown out of the country for criticizing the elections
  • Over fifty people surround me and order me to "tell the truth about our democracy" (which I readily agree to do) and accuse me of being a "liar" and "enemy of Hondurans"
  • Tribunal Court security escorts me out of angry crowd
  • Honduran press reports that I am Venezuelan and an agent of Chavez
The letter follows. I am now involved in submitting a human rights complaint and trying to correct all the rumors and errors that are circulating in the press. I will be writing on the elections themselves very soon.

Dear Embassy personnel,

I was asked to appear as an analyst on Al Jazeera television, out of Washington, on a live block at 8:00 p.m. We were filming in the middle of the hotel Marriott, second floor hallway, where the Electoral Tribunal and the media were announcing preliminary results. There were many people around and although I didn't notice at the time, apparently many gathered to watch the filming.

When asked by the interviewer my opinion of the elections, I stated that I did not think that the elections could resolve the deep political crisis in the country, that many people were not satisfied with the process since democratic order was not restored prior to the elections and that many countries were not recognizing the process. It was only about a 4-5 minute interview. As soon as we were off the air, the people gathered around pressed in on me and began to scream "liar," "why do you lie to the world," "here we have democracy," etc. A national observer, and many other people were yelling that I had given false information (I actually gave no information on elections results since there are no reliable data out yet and said that we would be seeing a war of statistics where one side will proclaim high abstention and the other high turn-out, and indeed that is already happening). They began to literally scream in my face, especially an "international observer" who said he was from the Chamber of Commerce. The press continued to ask questions, in part to shield me from the hostility of the crowd. I was willing to engage in conversation despite the aggressiveness and ugliness of the mob at first.

Then the crowd, led by national observers began to chant "democracy" to which I replied that there, we were in complete agreement. They pressed in more and more, screaming louder and louder at me, everyone chanting "fuera del país" "que se vaya" "sácala de aquí" etc. I said I felt in danger and wanted to leave. Some people including a man who apparently was from the security of the Electoral Tribunal escorted me downstairs and we managed to get out of the crowd, which followed me to the elevators, still screaming. When I got downstairs, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that people on the ground floor who had not even taken part in the incident upstairs knew me and began yelling for me to leave the country as well. No one followed me or physically assaulted me and I was able to leave the area.

Later many people called to say they saw a clip of the incident on television. It really was a small riot in the hotel. Despite the fact that i clearly identified myself as a US citizen and political analyst, the Honduran press reported that I was Venezuelan—a complete fabrication of course—I´ve never even set foot in that country. Some apparently said I was with Telesur, and others that I was an Al Jazeera reporter, when in fact this agency simply engaged me as an analyst.

The level of intolerance and aggression was totally unexpected and disconcerting. I have never in my life encountered such a hostile response to a difference of opinion or been punished for expressing my views like this. I have been reporting on the lack of freedom of expression, the censoring and shutting down of media here in Honduras as a serious violation of basic civil liberties, and now I understand the context of intolerance and violence in which it takes place firsthand. Analyzing international relations is my job at the Center for International Policy and I have every right as a professional to interpret world events and opine on them. I understand that many can disagree but I do not understand why that disagreement should devolve into aggression and hostility.

I am profoundly upset by the attitude of these national and international observers who are supposed to be impartial but are unable to accept an opinion different from their own, and have demanded that I be thrown out of the country for expressing my opinions. I am not an electoral observer and was not here as an electoral observer. I have seen many heated elections in my life but never been the victim of a verbal lynching like the one I experienced last night, and much less from individuals charged with validating the fairness and openness of the electoral process. Political differences are not the issue here, the issue is tolerance and respect for others.

I am now concerned for my safety under a coup regime that has carried out massive human rights violations with impunity that I myself as a member of the international delegation on women´s human rights have documented in our delegation in August. My face has been broadcast over national television, accompanied by lies and distortions. I can take care of myself and have no reason to consider myself to be in imminent danger that I know of, but I ask the US Embassy to be aware of my situation and warn that if anything does happen to me it will be necessary to investigate the implication of the coup regime and its supporters, given the threats that I have received.


Laura Carlsen


  1. Be safe Laura, you are very brave. I'm eagerly awaiting further details. I've been referring people to your blog. Rick and I are ready to drive the solidarity bus down there and fetch you out if things get any worse.

  2. "When asked by the interviewer my opinion of the elections, I stated that I did not think that the elections could resolve the deep political crisis in the country, that many people were not satisfied with the process since democratic order was not restored prior to the elections and that many countries were not recognizing the process."

    I was also an International Observer from the United States (in San Pedro Sula). The role of the observers was to observe the electoral process and report what we witnessed on that day. We were not there to share our political opinions as you improperly did. You went with a political agenda, which is inappropriate.

  3. Dear Joey Gruner,
    I'm glad you brought this up. I don't know where you got the idea that I was an international observer but I most definitely was not. I would never have given my support to this half-baked election by being an observer. I am the Americas Program Director of the Center for International Policy in Washington DC/Mexico and my job as a political analyst is to research and comment on issues.
    Thank you for writing. Could you please send a list of the observers? and you are welcome to use this spae to relate your experiences. I know that was a site of a major between security forces an demonstrators.

  4. Sounds as if the people you thought were "credentialed" observers were people sent to make sure their "bosses" point of view was not challenged - especially since the people who were not in the room were yelling the same things at you.

    Be safe and secure in your beliefs.

  5. Dear Mr. Joey Gruner:
    As a translator for the Americas Program for years now, I know perfectly well that Laura Carlsen is American, that she was in Hondurans as director of the Americas Program, never as an International Observer of any elections.
    I know that from the beginning of the coup she reported almost all the related events Tegucigalpa and other Honduran sites. Were you there then? Did you witness the persecution, jailing and torturing of Honduran people peacefully demonstrating for the restoration of democratically elected president Zelaya, and the raping of Honduran women for doing the same?
    Ms. Carlsen definitely was not in Honduras on Nov. 29 as an International Observer of any elections, but rather with the mission to report on the facts surrounding the "event", as most Hondurans called the farce mounted by the US/SOA/WHINSEC-trained military coup leaders. I would think, Sir, if indeed you were in San Pedro Sula as an International Observer of what was really a farce, that you might now be opining in here as a planted element of those centuries-old US-business as usual powers who want to preserve Honduras as their particular "hacienda". Regards, María Soledad Cervantes (for the record, I'm not Venezuelan, but Mexican.)

  6. Laura Carlsen has done wonderful work over the years, reporting and analyzing developments ranging from the WTO in Cancun, Mexico to the Americas Social Forum in Guatemala, to issues surrounding human rights and democratic processes throughout the region. I am grateful for her persistent and intelligent work educating and informing people across the hemisphere. The despiccable treatment to which she was subjected for simply expressing her analysis on camera in Tegucigalpa is the tip of the iceburg of the extreme right wing takeover of the political control of Honduras,through an illegal and unjustifiable coup d'etat. Keep up the great work, Laura!! The behavior of the so-called "election observers" should really be a story to get to the bottom of! Who were those so-called "observers

    Esteban Bartlett
    Agricultural Missions

  7. Dear Laura, I am sure you have the best intentions to help out in Honduras but I think that balancing your opinions may serve our cause better. No election is perfect and we have witness this right here in our country. I do not want to bring on more pain but we probably suffered one of the greatest fraud on earth when Bush Jr won. Yes at the expense of discriminating against minorities and blessing of the supreme court.
    After being exposed to this huge fraud in our soil, I am not too upset about Honduras because if it were true, more people voted this time than ever before. Nor I can ignore the faulty political skills of president Zelaya to maintain support of his own political party, congressmen he postulated and other branches of government. I just learned that Zelaya has been denied reinstatement and lost by a wide margin 111-14 the vote in congress (where he proposed to be reinstated).

    Given this facts, I am forced to balance my evaluation of the situation in Honduras and review again the arguments promoted by the coup regime:
    ...the constitution and all the legal bodies in Honduras (attorney general, the different courts, Ombudsman, national election tribunal, and legislative branch had determined Zelaya was illegally trying to remain in power by conducting an election poll (ran by himself) with the intention of installing a national assembly, dissolving congress and supreme court and re-writing the constitution to his convenience. If Bush or other president had try to do this before leaving office, what do you think would be our reaction?
    Yours, Harry SFO bay area

  8. This just shows how biased the "International Observers" where? Did they observe the scant voting in the working class neighborhoods? Did they notice the excessive use of police force? Shame!

    thanks Laura for the truth!

  9. To have a crowd of yahoos start screaming at Laura Carlsen to interrupt her interview is completely uncivil and anti-democratic.

    The true, proper civil democratic Honduran response would be to have the military throw Laura Carlsen out of the country in her pajamas and then have the Honduran Congress say that a Supreme Court ruling lets them vote for a new representative of the Center for International Policy.

    Then the U.S. State Department and Senator Jim DeMint could declare that they will recognize the new representative of the Center for International Policy as long as he or she refers to himself or herself as the Representative of the Center for International Policy for Unity and Reconciliation.

    And then the new totally democratically chosen CIP spokesperson could then go out and complain because Al Jazeera and other stolid holdouts were refusing to recognize him or her as the new representative of the CIP and refusing to finish the interview.

  10. Dear Harry: you must have the best of intentions in consoling Laura; however, I as a true American, i.e., one born in the American Continent though not in the U.S., know the following facts to be true:
    (1) For more than two centuries, US-business have held Honduras hostage to their exclusive interests. The United Fruit Company -now existing as Chiquita- held in Guatemala and Honduras great stretchs of fallow land which produced no benefits, only for the purpose of substituting them for any banana-producing land that went exhauste. Thus that land produced no benefits, ever, to the needy Honduran population.
    (2)Honduras' "Constitution" is deemed by jurists the world over as one of the worse -if not the worst- constitution in the world. It was made for the entire convenience of those -mostly U.S.- business interests, i.e., to facilitate maintenance in power of the olygarchy supporting those very same interests.
    (3) Zelaya never sought to reelect himself (unlike Colombia's Uribe, who is seeking his third reelection), but to establish a Constitutional Assembly precisely to make a new -not a new, but a true- constitution which serves the true interests and human rights of the Honduran people.
    Apologies for the corrections, however please do admit that you in the U.S. have never endured occupation of your territory by interests alien to yours (though the way Bush Jr. got to power poses quite a few doubts).
    One last question: I wonder on whose behalf and in name of whose interests these self-styled "U.S.-international observers" were in Honduras on Nov. 29?

  11. Thanks! Don't think we've ever met, but I've been reading your stuff for years.

    Funny how every internet comment page under an honest discussion about Honduras gets lots of misleading and distraction comments. Seems like I read once that PR firms offer that as a service.

    Don't worry about the noise, the people trying to shout you down in the room, or the people trying to shout you down out here. Lots of us can tell when someone is telling us the truth.

    Its rather easy. The people supporting military rule and dictatorships are usually the bad guys! At least to an American like myself. I know enough history to know that King George didn't want us to hold our constitutional assembly either. :)

  12. Its to be expected behavior in a faux "democracy" where dictators pretend to be presidents while using the military to suppress, rape, and terrorize their own people.

    Funny how one never ever ever sees that pathetic behavior in the USA but it seems to be favored or encouraged on "those people" in the southerly direction.

    And in the end, Honduras will remain only one rung above complete poverty second only to Haiti.

    Stay safe & keep up the good reporting.

  13. Joey - This comment is out of line. I saw you "observers" on Real News Network. Did you go there to legitimize the elections, or observe them? Laura wasn't there to observe them only, she was there to ANALYZE them, and comment on them.

    Your comment suggests that you don't appreciate free speech either - so, a foreign citizen shouldn't even HAVE an opinion or tell the truth as she sees it? What a disgrace. Your complete lack of compassion for someone being attacked also seems vulgar to me.

  14. As usual, El Cid has the proper understanding of the politics of the situation.

    Laura, what you describe is actually a much more general phenomenon. We saw it in the way US Congressmen were treated when they met with constituents about healthcare. They were shouted down and threatened.

    I don't think the resemblance is coincidental. I think it this is a right-wing strategy which was tried out in the US, found useful and has been transplanted elsewhere.

    Talk radio in the US cultivates rage. People become addicted to it, almost as a drug. It gives a sense of aliveness to people who otherwise feel dead. That rage, though, needs an outlet. Angry shouting, vicious letters and blog posts, threats, even violence become a means to validate what is actually a form of sickness.

    About the best that can be said about is is that people who indulge in rage shorten their own unfortunate lives. Please don't let their mental illness disturb you. There are victims more worthy of our concern.

    --Charles of Mercury Rising

  15. I would very much like reference to a book (either written or in process) that places the Honduran coup/"transition" in broader context particularly regarding how the constitution was written. The constitution is the core of the coup, because the coup-plotters (including Lannie Davis and Jim DeMint) could say that this was a tri-cameral constitutional process of removing a president who broke the law.