Nov 26, 2009

Violence and Tension, Prelude to Honduran Elections

  • Shootings and raids create tense backdrop for today’s vote
  • Human rights groups' petition to suspend elections ignored by court
  • Groups cite "...systematic and serious violation of human rights and decrees that restrict the rights and liberties of the Honduran population"
  • Organizations establish Human Rights Platform to monitor and defend against expected rise in repression

Ángel Fabricio Salgado lies in a hospital bed in Tegucigalpa, hovering between life and death. He and three companions were shot by soldiers when they inadvertantly ran into an unmarked roadblock near army headquarters.

His sister-in-law, Ana Elvir, tells Radio Globo, “He was shot in cold blood. Then they (the military) cleaned up the mess. This was a crime and no one has even come to question us about it." Her voice trembling, she adds "It's unbelievable what’s happening to us... How can you carry out elections in this situation?"

Members of Amnesty International maintain a permanent presence outside Angel´s hospital room. Doctors do not expect him to emerge from coma, thus adding a death to the tally of pre-electoral human rights violations.

Miles away from Angel's deathbed, soldiers and police used weapons to break down the doors of a national coalition of small farmers' and women's organizations. Once inside, they ransacked the offices and the nearby training school for four hours and took away computers, booklets and photographs of peaceful marches against the coup. The latter, they claimed, were “subversive materials.”

Although most streets appear calm and polling places have reported no incidents so far, reports of repression and coercion have been pouring into the human rights hotlines established by non-governmental organizations. In the last twenty-four hours, human rights organizations have received and confirmed reports that several houses of resistance leaders have been raided. Residents report that at 4:00 a.m. 200 soldiers entered the Tegucigalpa neighborhood of Hato de Enmedio, searched homes without presenting a warrant or reason, and arrested one resident. The farm community of Guadalupe Carney, in the department of Colón—active in the resistance—has been surrounded by some 200 soldiers.

A Military Affair

The National Front against the Coup has called a "popular curfew" that started at 6 p.m. Saturday and is scheduled to last until 6 a.m. Monday morning. The coalition of grassroots organizations has urged its members to carry out the boycott of the elections and avoid conflict by staying home during polling hours. In many places, there is a notable decrease in the number of people in the streets.

To this writing, no major deployment of military units in the capital city has been observed or reported. However, the military plays a key role in every facet of the elections. At the polling place located in the "Republic of Uruguay" school, officials from the National Party described the process: the military delivers elections materials before dawn, armed soldiers remain outside the polling place during voting hours, then army units collect the ballots. Results are tallied and phoned in from the polling places.

These procedures leave yawning gaps in vigilance and control. To some degree, fraud has been a feature of Honduran elections in the past. But this year's elections in the context of a boycott and a concerted effort to legitimize the takeover of June 28, present much greater challenges than usual. With the exception of a few members of the UD party, there are no members of the opposition to the coup watching over the polls. Experienced elections observation organizations have refused to participate in the Honduran elections, citing a lack of basic conditions to professionally carry out the task and the questionable nature of the elections themselves. A representative of the U.S. government's National Democratic Institute stated that its mandate is not to "observe the elections" but to "accompany the electoral process," due to lack of conditions for formal electoral observation. Organizations including the Carter Center, which has done elections observations in the past, are instead sending human rights monitoring missions.

The Honduran Armed Forces have been sending out signals to the population in resistance that they continue to be in charge. Selective repression immediately preceding the elections has been used to intimidate communities and neighborhoods. Police patrols spotted on the road this morning, were heavily armed and dressed in full riot gear. The police have established checkpoints to frisk drivers and passengers in numerous points throughout the city.

The security forces charged with overseeing the electoral process are the same ones who broke the constitutional chain of command by kidnapping and exiling the president on June 28. They are also the same ones accused of multiple assassinations of demonstrators and resistance leaders, arbitrary detentions, torture and beatings.

Risks and Red Flags

At an assembly of neighborhood leaders on Saturday, participants listed potential problems in zones throughout the country. First, they noted that resistance leaders have been harassed in their homes and could be targets. Second, they called on all members to watch out for strangers who could provoke violence pretending to be members of the resistance.

Despite the popular curfew, Gilda Rivera, a resistance leader and director of the Center for Women's Rights expects some demonstrations to occur in different parts of the capital and the country. President Zelaya, calling in from the Brazilian Embassy where he remains in limbo, called on people to go out and show their support for the boycott. These demonstrations could be met with repression. The uncertainty of elections that are not recognized by the majority of neighboring nations, boycotted by much of the population and conducted under an illegal regime has created a climate of tension and nervousness.

Rivera predicts an increase in repression and targeting of mid-level leaders of the resistance. She warns of red flags in places of strong resistance including Santa Barbara, Tocoa and Olancho.

Human Rights Groups Claim "lack of guarantees" for Free and Fair Elections

Prominent human rights organizations in Honduras filed a petition in the National Electoral Tribunal on Nov. 27 to suspend the Nov. 29 electoral process for lack of minimal conditions necessary to carry out free and fair elections.

Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH); Bertha Oliva, of the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH); Gilberto Rios, Executive Secretary of FIAN Honduras; Gilda Rivera Sierra, Director of the Center for Women's Rights; Juan Almendares, Director of the Center for Prevention, Treatment, Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families (CPTRT) and Reina Rivera Joya, Director of the Center for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH) list eight motives for suspension, along with documentation.

Faced with a concerted campaign to recognize tomorrow´s elections held under the coup regime, the human rights groups present powerful arguments for why elections under the current conditions cannot be considered valid. the document explains:

"Fair elections don’t just depend on sophisticated technologies, international observers, or strict compliance with terms and requirements; they must also be preceded by a clean electoral process, product of a climate of full freedoms, in which candidates and voters can express themselves freely and equally, without fear of being assassinated, tortured, detained or imprisoned, as has happened in Honduras since June 28.

Some examples: the former presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes was seriously injured after being brutally beaten in a peaceful demonstration; the same happened to congressional candidate Marvin Ponce; Congresswoman Silvia Ayala’s house was raided and her computer taken; the nephew of Alejandro Villatoro, owner of the anti-coup Radio Globo, was shot by hitmen; vice candidate for mayor of Santa Barbara and resistance member, Eliseo Hernandez Juarez, was assassinated."
It also notes that, "Government employees and workers in the private sector are being obliged to vote under threat of being fired from their jobs" and that the suppression of independent media constitutes a violation of freedom of expression inconsistent with free and fair elections.

No comments:

Post a Comment