Aug 31, 2009

Honduran Constitutional Assembly Would Be a Step Toward the Emancipation of Women


Interview with Bertha Cáceres, COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization of Honduras) and the National Front Against the Coup d’état.

Aug. 19, 2009/Tegucigalpa


How are the women participating in the movement?


Even in spaces that are known as progressive, for women it continues to be hard because we are confronted with patriarchal domination and domestication, and the organizations within the movement are no exception.


I think the participation and the support of the women, despite this, has broken the pattern of domination in a very important way—from the participation and the leadership demonstrated in the National Front Against the Coup at a national level, to the outstanding and strong women in the north, the west, the center, the Atlantic coast and here as well.


We also see women participating directly in the struggle. In the marches and mobilization, we see more than half are women and especially in the marches where there has been the most repression.


This is something we’ve been saying. There is strong participation on the part of the women, heroic participation, not just in the marches, but also in defending themselves and responding to the repression. For example, it has been women—especially indigenous women—who have directly confronted the military, faced with threats and cases of the forced recruitment of young people.


Through this, one can see how women are participating in different spaces: in communication, education, publicity, in all of the strategies of the front, in defining the situation, in the debate on how to proceed, and in contributing to a collective analysis of different scenarios that could present themselves in this country.


How are women included in the process? If I were a Honduran woman, why would I fight for the new constitutional assembly?


First, it means confronting a dictatorship, a dictatorship based on different forms of domination. We have been saying all along that it is not just predatory capitalism, not just racism that has increased under this dictatorship, but also patriarchy. So, we feel that fighting against this dictatorship is to go beyond that toward a more strategic vision. In the long term, it is the fight for our country.


A national constitutional assembly, I feel, is fundamental for women. For the first time, we would be setting a precedent for taking a firm step toward the emancipation of women, to begin to break the roots of domination. The fact is that the current constitution does not mention women anywhere—not even once—and for example. To establish a constitution that addresses our human rights, our reproductive, sexual, political, social and economic rights—this is really confronting the system of domination.


So, for us women, we want to actively participate towards this end—not to be observers, or an isolated sector, enclosed in a sterile and incomplete analysis, but to be major actors in deciding and contributing to the debate.


I believe this debate will be one of the hardest, because it must confront fundamentalist and reactionary sectors. So we need to be aware that this is a big challenge for women: that we will not allow others to decide for the majority of poor women. Because this is also a struggle between the rich and the poor, between poor women and rich women—it’s that clear. We also need to be aware that this struggle includes many situations and that’s why we need to believe, more than ever before, in the need for a national assembly…


What is the program that women must defend?


Patriarchy is not exclusive to the capitalist system, right? Nor is it just inherent in one culture or another… We need to move toward a new constitution, a process of redefining our thinking. It is to begin to dismantle this belief that others have the right to make decisions about our bodies, to start guaranteeing that women are the owners and have autonomous rights to their bodies. It is a political act; a political proposal.


The ability to have and guarantee access to land, territories, cultures, health, education, art, dignified and decent employment for women, and many other things, are elements that we must guarantee in this process of a new constitutional assembly that leads to a real process of liberation.


What has happened to women in the past 52 days of the coup?


Like in any dictatorship, repression bolsters these kinds of violations and violence against women, and it’s clear that Honduras is no exception. We have seen among the women—especially the rural, indigenous and black women—how their right to freedom of movement has been violated. We have even seen a case in which garífuna women were prohibited from leaving La Ceiba by the military, in the northern part of the country. They were told they could not come here and had to remain confined to La Ceiba. The violation of human rights is incredible and one can see it clearly in this case where the military personnel just saw a bus filled with garífuna women and the racism came out immediately. One of the soldiers got on the bus and said, “No, they must get off, turn them around—they are prohibited from going to Tegucigalpa. They cannot move from here.”


The indigenous and elderly women who were detained and locked up in illegal for detention facilities, were told repeatedly—while they were roughed up and touched in ways that affected them physically and mentally—they said, “we have to see your vagina (in other words)… That is where your weapons are.”


Or, for example, in San Francisco Opalaca, an indigenous municipality, where the army cornered and threatened people, especially women, saying that if they left town for the march, their children would be recruited. It was a way to extort, intimidate, and corner the indigenous women. The army knows that the women are the first to confront them when it comes to this. In Honduras, there was a fight against forced recruitment. The women and young people were the leader’s protagonists in abolishing the mandatory military service in 1992.


There have been many human rights violations—the persecution of our families and organizations, interventions in our communications, constant and systematic threats. This is a reality that we see in this country and that’s why the Inter-American Commission (on Human Rights) is here, to see the situation firsthand, and see that what is happening is not a made-up story.


Have you suffered from violations personally?


Three days before the coup—I lived in La Esperanza with my family, my mom and my son—and my house was surrounded by guys in civilian clothing, armed, with walkie-talkies, and cell phones. They were harassing us, circling the house for many hours, day and night. On several occasions, the police and the army have gone to my house, knowing that only my mother and my two young sons were home. There has been constant vigilance and one realizes that in a dictatorship this is inevitable. We believe that this is a repressive dictatorship, as was expected, but we will continue to fight here because we are not intimidated.


What do you think the presence of the international women’s here has to offer?


We equally value all delegations that come, but we know that these sectors are more involved, they have a commitment, a natural and strategic alliance with us. They are our compañeras—not some foreigners that come to observe, but they are aware of why we are fighting back, what the cause is, what the commitment is, and they come not only to observe but to join us in this fight as well. This is very important to us. What do you expect from the international community now that the mediation seems to have failed? I make a distinction among the international community. One side is the formal international community—like the OAS, the UN, national governments—and we demand that they remain consistent with the democratic discourse, the discourse of the OAS and UN, and that they remain consistent with the decisions that have already been made. The responsibility to save this country, to return to institutionalism and initiate a new process of fledgling democracy is also the responsibility of the international community. We have seen direct participation from governments like the United States, actors from the Pentagon, the CIA and all of the terrorist agents they’ve deployed—counter-revolutionaries, and the ones that destabilize States and people’s governments—with the clear objective of starting a tendency toward coups against our continent, directed toward the south.


They were wrong when they thought that Honduras was the weakest link, because here a process of participation had already begin, of incorporation into ALBA, greater relationships with the south and the Caribbean in our continent. They were wrong here, they miscalculated. They said it would be a two days of resistance, and they were wrong. This population has demonstrated that we are capable of not just 52 days, but a much longer struggle.


And we demand the international community take responsibility and not view the problem of Honduras as a secondary item on its agenda. We are also aware that what happened to Haiti could also happen to us, where there was a brief moment of attention in the international media and then the situation in Haiti was silenced.


On the other hand, we are asking for an international solidarity movement, to be active alongside us, accompanying us. For us, any action from this movement is just as important as these marches we have here every day. The international movement needs to pressure the OAS and their own governments to sanction the coup regime and comply with the OAS and UN resolutions. To help us get the word out through autonomous, independent media. This is very valuable to us, because remember we are living with the terror and manipulation of the media in our country. Any action—sending a letter, sending a delegation—all of this is helpful. That’s why we distinguish between the two. We know that this social and political movement will always be with us.


The feminist delegation will be submitting a report. What would be most important violations of women’s human rights from the past 52 days to report on?


I believe that violations of physical and emotional integrity, of women’s sexuality, the use of women’s bodies—this is where army has shown its strongest repression. Also the restrictions on our rights to express ourselves—to me, this is one of the worst violations of our human rights. We can’t go to any of the coup-controlled media to express our positions. Also freedom of movement and organization, freedom of assembly: we can be arrested at any time and harassed even when we’re in our own organizations.


What do you expect from this?


We expect to strengthen the Honduran movement, beginning with a stage of building the bases. What does this mean? It is the work to be done in municipalities and departments. The people are teaching us a great lesson—they are forming the Front at the municipal level. But in many places it has not been done. This is a priority in the new stage of the National Front Against the Coup. We believe this is great and we hope to achieve sustainability of the movement, which is a long-term movement.


What is the agenda for women at this stage?


For us, it is to intensify our demands since because these are historical demands. Here we’re seeing the historical demands of diverse sectors, organizations and movements. I believe that we have to put forward our demands as women more than ever before, to get them into the debate of the Honduran people in an open manner. Feminist or not, this agenda for discussion has to be included in the debate to continue building the contents of what could be a new constitution.


Laura Carlsen and Sara Lovera

Aug 25, 2009

Honduran Society Faces Contradictions of Illegitimate Institutions

Part 1: The Coup's Version of 'Order in the Court'

The workings of a modern-day democracy depend on the open and orderly day-to-day functions of institutions based on law. The international community has unanimously agreed that this does not exist in Honduras. But few people outside Honduras really understand what it means to live in a society where the institutions are in the hands of the same people who broke with the rule of law.

The week of Aug. 17-24, I accompanied an international delegation for Women’s Human Rights Week in Tegucigalpa and got a chance to see firsthand the morass of contradictions that arise when institutions made to uphold the law and protect human right are run by leaders of an illegal military coup.

Impunity for Some, Persecution for Others

Tuesday was the preliminary hearing for 24 people arrested during the protests held Aug 11-12. We headed to the Supr
eme Court to wait for the outcome of the hearing and talk to family members and legal advisors. Friends and relatives were concerned that the coup regime will use the case of their loved ones to send a hard-line message to the resistance movement.

The press and statements from those released on bail has confirmed that the day security forces picked up these prisoners they took them to an illegal detention center. Not even a legal holding facility, the center was improvised behind the Congress building where, in another farce of justice, members rubber-stamped the ouster of the elected president Manuel Zelaya with ad hoc charges and a falsified letter of resignation.

Men and women of all ages were thrown in together and beaten. They were stripped semi-naked, laid face down on the floor, and in many cases beaten. Women prisoners reported being struck repeatedly on the breasts and buttocks.

But none of this was on trial, nor will it ever be under the coup regime. Despite public and documented accusations of abuse in custody, no charges have been filed or investigations opened against the security forces. Instead, the 24 men and women going before the judge have to answer to a slew of charges including robbery, vandalism, arson and sedition.

Some prisoners were released on bail, others were held over the week awaiting arraignment. I watch as the prisoners are removed from the paddy wagon in handcuffs. The fear and humiliation of the treatment they’ve received at the hands of authorities shows as they file by with lowered heads, prodded by heavily armed police. Relatives and friends gathered for the hearing and to catch a glimpse of loved ones, cry out in indignation. Tempers run high. “Look at how they’re being treated like common criminals,” yells one man. “These sons-of-a-bitches of the de facto regime have disgraced our country.”

Raquel Hernandez´s 18-year-old son, Alan Samuel Cruz, is among the group rounded up that day and now standing trial.

Hernandez relates, “I got a call and he said, ‘Mama, I’m in the Cobras (among the most feared security forces) headquarters… There are about 24 of us here, some are badly beaten, I think one has a broken clavicle…’ I got a lawyer friend and went and sat down there and I told them ‘I know that my son is here, I’m 100% sure because I talked to him, and I’m not leaving until I see my son.’ They wouldn’t tell me anything.”

Hernández continues, in tears. “Later he told me, ‘Mama, I was taking photos and a soldier grabbed me in the march, but I wasn’t doing anything wrong…’ He’s just a university student. When I heard this it gave me chills, a sense of impotence with this government. They stripped my son, they took off his shirt and his socks and threw him face down in the Congress and from there they took them in a closed convoy so the prisoners couldn’t see where they were going.”

“Where my son was, was where the Battalion 3-16 operated in the 80s, where they executed people… I thought that my son would be ‘disappeared.’ They are taking innocent people, they’re not delinquents. Its innocent people, poor people that are in the streets because of this de facto government, they’re just fighting to reestablish the government and they are arrested and accused of charges that are unjust... It’s repression… We want justice… The police are the aggressive ones, they carry baseball bats and tubes… We can’t take it anymore, this government lies and we can’t even demonstrate because we’re attacked.”

Another man tells me the story of his 56-year old father Lisandro Gomez, who was picked up the same day. “The police are acting like henchmen. They don’t care about sex or age… They grabbed them without even telling them what they were charged with. They laid them on the ground in the blazing heat for an hour and those who lifted up their heads got clubbed or threatened with a gun. My father got hit four times, one in the back, one in the leg. It was light for him, but considering his age… One woman was brutally beaten and thrown on top of the men with no shirt. My father said she fell on top of him… They’re accused of robbery but no-one was found with anything stolen on them.”

After talking to the relatives, I go inside the court building where the hearing is being held. This is not a normal trial. Armed police officers refused admittance to the lower court where the preliminary hearing is being held. The court is militarized—in the hallway outside the salon, four soldiers in camouflage surreptitiously snap photos of family members and supporters as more soldiers fill the courtroom as an ominous reminder that institutions in the hands of the armed forces have lost all semblance of real institutionality or justice.


Two days later, the judge released the prisoners with restraining measures against six of the group. It was a victory for the movement, but a hollow one. The scene at the courtroom revealed that justice cannot function normally under the coup’s military-backed regime. At a press conference a few days later, Police Commissioner Danilo Orellana announced that arrest orders would be issued for protestors who painted walls and extended to movement leaders for “instigation” simply for organizing a march.


Persecution of leaders and members of the non-violent resistance for “property damage” while leaving the coup’s crimes of murder, rape and beating in complete impunity exposes the underlying lack of justice in Honduras today. The movement is put in the complicated position of defending its political prisoners in court while at the same time denouncing the underlying hypocrisy and lack of impartiality of the court system under the coup.

Aug 20, 2009

Coup Catalyzes Honduran Women´s Movement


On the morning of June 28, women’s organizations throughout Honduras were preparing to promote a yes vote on the national survey to hold a Constitutional Assembly. Then the phones lines started buzzing.

In this poor Central American nation, feminists have been organizing for years in defense of women’s rights, equality and against violence. When the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was forcibly exiled by the armed forces, women from all over the country spontaneously organized to protect themselves and their families and demand a return to democracy. They called the new umbrella organization “Feminists in Resistance.”

On Aug. 18, Feminists in Resistance sat down with women from the international delegation for Women’s Human Rights Week, which they organized to monitor and analyze human rights violations and challenges for the organization. One after another they told their stories in a long session that combined group therapy and political analysis—a natural mix at this critical point in Honduran history and the history of their movement.

Miriam Suazo relates the events of the day of the coup. “On the 28th, women began calling each other, saying ‘what’s happening?’” At first no-one really understood the full extent of the coup, she says, but networks mobilized quickly and women began to gather to share information and plan actions. Independent feminists and feminists from different organizations immediately identified with each other and with the rising resistance to the coup. They began going out to help those who had been beaten and to trace individuals arrested by security forces.

For some, the shock of waking up to a coup d’état wasn’t new.

“This is my third coup,” relates Marielena. “I was girl when the coup in 1963 happened. Then I lived through the coup in 1972. We lived in front of a school and I saw how my mother faced the bullets, we thought they were going to kill her… Later in the university in the 80s I lived through the repression with many of the women here… So this has revived the story of my life.”

There is a saying in Honduras about the Central American dirty war that “While the U.S. had its eye on Nicaragua and its hands in El Salvador, it had its boot on Honduras.” For the older women who remember the terror of that time when over 200 people were disappeared and hundreds tortured and assassinated, the current coup stirs up deep fears. Gilda Rivera, director of the Center for Women’s Rights in Tegucigalpa, says, “I’ve had a messed-up life. I was among the students kidnapped by Billy Joya in the 80s… Now I’ve been to the border twice, I’ve lived with a curfew over my head. Sometimes I wake up alone, terrified.”

The older women agree that they have grown and their movement has grown since the 80s.
Marielena notes, “Today´s not the same as the 80s because there’s a popular movement that the coup leaders never imagined… What Zelaya has done is symbolize the popular discontent accumulated over the years.” She recounts the August 5 battle for the university where she works and the surprising participation of students. Her story is echoed in variations by many of the women present.

Although they battle nightmares and long-buried trauma, these women also see a new hope for the resistance this time around and for their own fight for women´s rights. The repression and fear has strengthened their resolve. “Sure, I’m afraid of dying but I´m not losing hope,” Gilda says. “I see hope in the faces of the people at the marches. And the solidarity from women, from all of you, keeps me going.”

For Jessica, events this year brought to mind the contra war of the 80s. “I never imagined that my daughters would have to be in a situation like this,” she says. As a mother who has lived through the period before Honduras began its incomplete transition to democracy, and the period when democracy was merely a word that belied a much cruder reality in the country, she worries. “I told my daughter not to go to the march. She said, ‘mom, what about my autonomy?’”

“My little girl—she’s 18 now, but she’s still my little girl—ended up going with me to the march. It was really gratifying for me that we went together.” These women know in their bodies and their hearts the costs of resistance. They also know that the costs of not resisting are far greater.

For the new generation of feminists, the catalyst came with the confrontation in front of the National Institute of Women on July 15. The day the coup-appointed head of the Institute was installed, Feminists in Resistance gathered to protest the takeover of “their” institution. Keila says, “The police used their billy clubs, they grabbed me by the neck. I was filled with so much rage—I was drowning in it.” Many women in the organization experienced a turning point in their lives that day. Adelai explains, “(The Institute) was my turf, something that belonged to me, and they attacked us there. That was a direct assault on our condition as women… What they did there really affected me personally.”

Despite a lot of suffering, the women in the Feminists in Resistance meeting agree that the exhausting dynamic of constant mobilizations and repression has deepened their commitment. Their movement has also come together and developed closer ties to the general movement. When word got out that the feminists were being attacked at the Women’s Institute, demonstrators from the entire demonstration of the National Front against the Coup immediately marched to the Institute to defend the women and show their solidarity.

Although the Front leadership continues to be mostly male, men in the movement have publicly recognized the contributions of the feminist organizations and women in the resistance. From tracking the wounded and detained, to marching day after day, to developing analysis and strategy papers, women’s organizations have played a critical role in opposing the coup.

At a meeting between leaders of the Front and Feminists in Resistance earlier in the day, Salvador Zuniga, a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the Front, recognized that women have been among the most active and courageous in the resistance movement. He pointed out that the feminist movement is at the center of the rightwing reaction that led to the coup.

“One of the things that provoked the coup d’état was that the president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the day-after pill. Opus Dei mobilized, the fundamentalist evangelical churches mobilized, along with all the reactionary groups,” he explained.

The unprecedented role of women in the nation’s fight for democracy opens them up as a target for repression. Zuniga concluded in no uncertain terms, “What I can say is that the feminist compañeras are in greater danger than any other organization. This has to be made public.” His conclusion is based on the forces now in control of the Women´s Institute.

Besides being at the receiving end of the billy clubs and pistols along with the rest of the movement, women suffer specific forms of repression and violence; their bodies have become part of the battleground. Human rights groups including the Women’s Human Rights Week international delegation have documented rapes, beatings, sexual harassment and discriminatory insults. Army and police units routinely shout out “whores!”, “Go find a husband!”, "Go home where you belong!" at the more and more frequent confrontations between the women and the coup security forces.

It’s precisely that step out of the private sphere that makes these dangerous times so exciting and energizes the women of the organization. Many report being driven by the adrenaline of knowing that this time they are the ones defining their history. They ride a roller coaster of emotions, often pitching from euphoria to despair in a single day. But one constant is the satisfaction of binding in a political project with other women who understand the full scope of what they demand and share the contradictory feelings storming inside.

The budding movement that has come together in the heat of the coup as Feminists in Resistance faces some major challenges, the first to defeat the coup that now enters Day 54 on the resistance calendar. As the rightwing consolidates power and its own perverse brand of institutionalism, they feel like they´re looking down the barrel of a gun as far as their rights and safety are concerned. Rumors circulate that the coup will dismantle the Institute for Women. Congress is about to initiate obligatory military service, meaning that mothers throughout the country will be compelled to protect their children from forced induction. Their freedom of expression, freedom of transit, freedom of assembly have all been curtailed under the coup, along with everyone else who opposes the regime, except for them the physical enforcement of reduced liberties is accompanied by acts of sexual violence and threats.

Big questions are on the table at the meeting of Honduran and international feminists. How to fight for a necessary return to institutional order at a time when the vulnerability and insufficient nature of those institutions has been exposed? How to avoid relegating women´s demands to a lower plane in a period of acute political crisis? How to break through a media black-out that´s even more impenetrable if you´re against the coup and a woman? And how to simply hold your work and family together while spending hours a day in the streets and meetings.

Bertha Cáceres is a leader of COPINH, a leader of the Front, and mother of four. In her political work she has integrated her specific demands as a woman and believes that organized women must be front-and-center in the resistance against the coup.

“First, because (our struggle as women) means confronting a dictatorship based on different forms of domination. We´ve said that it´s not just destructive capitalism, not just the racism that has also been strengthened by this dictatorship, but also patriarchy. So we think our resistance as women means going a step further, toward a more strategic vision, a more long-term vision in fighting for our country.”

She points to a national constitutional assembly as a fundamental goal for women. “For the first time we would be able to establish a precedent for the emancipation of women, to begin to break these forms of domination. The current constitution never mentions women, not once, so to establish our human rights, our reproductive, sexual, political, social and economic rights as women would be to really confront this system of domination.”

The women of Feminists in Resistance have no illusions that this will be an easy task. In addition to the challenges above, the movement is in transition to a new stage of nationwide local organization and long-term strategizing, at the same time as it faces increasing repression and human rights violations. The question of the elections slated for November has created another deadline for definitions of Sept. 1, when President Zelaya has sworn to return to the country and campaigns would normally begin. Feminists in Resistance has a clear position to boycott any coup-sponsored elections, but some other parts of the movement and the international diplomatic community have been more ambiguous.

What´s certain amid these rapidly changing national scenarios is that Honduran women have built a movement that, despite little media attention and the barriers of a male-dominated society, has garnered international support from women around the world and respect from the general resistance movement. Their organization will continue to play a central role in what happens next in Honduras—a key determinant of the course of democracy throughout the Hemisphere.

Laura Carlsen is Director of the Americas Program. She is currently in Tegucigalpa as a member of the international delegation of Women's Human Rights Week in Honduras.

Aug 13, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama on "Hypocrisy"

At the Summit of North American Leaders in Guadalajara, President Obama uncharacteristically lit into critics of his administration's actions (or lack thereof) to crack the coup in Honduras.

Obama said, "The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we're always intervening and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America."

"If these critics think that it's appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their -- their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations that certainly is not going to guide the policy of my administration."

That stung. Feeling myself directly alluded to, I sent a letter to the White House. Here is the letter, and below are a few more things I would have said if I hadn't had a two thousand character limit on the form.

Dear Mr. President,

It is hard to express my disappointment at your remarks about those of us who have been working to end the military coup in Honduras. Calling us hypocrites was uncalled for, to say the least, rude, and grossly inaccurate.

The United States government has already declared that what happened on June 28 was a coup d'etat and the law demands that sanctions be applied to an illegal regime. This is not intervention; it is U.S. law. We have never demanded that the U.S. "intervene". We have only demanded that it be consistent with its own policies and resolutions and with actions taken by countries throughout the world. I have been truly concerned as a citizen and as a policy analyst who works on promoting democracy in Latin America that the U.S. position has not been entirely consistent and that the relative weakness of this position has been a factor in the intransigence of the coup.

Mr. President, many of your initial statements about the coup were firm and principled. I welcomed those statements as a decided change from the ideological posturing of the past.

Now I find that I am publicly slighted and and sidelined for calling for stronger measures. It is one thing to have a difference of opinion on how to end this bloody coup, which we all would agree has gone on for way too long. It is quite another to call on citizens to get involved in your government and then misrepresent our positions and insult our character when we do.

When outlining a new approach to Latin America, you have quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt's principle of "mutual respect" in foreign relations. This principle must begin at home, between the president who ignited hopes for a new U.S. foreign policy and the citizens who are working to bring it to about.

I honestly believe an apology is in order, to me and to the thousands of people in faith-based organizations who have called for further sanctions in Honduras. I also urge you to review your administration's actions since June 28, the options still available, and the current stalemate, with the aim of developing a stronger pro-democracy position that is not "interventionist" but thoroughly in line with international and national law.

Sincerely and Respectfully,
Laura Carlsen


It is probably no coincidence that these remarks came out one day before the International Day of Action on Honduras. Scores of U.S. organizations, including national church organizations, unions, migrants groups and human rights networks have called for citizens to urge the Obama administration to withdraw the U.S. ambassador, apply economic sanctions and freeze assets of coup leaders. A letter written by Rep. Grijalva is circulating that calls for the above and that asks the government to speak out on human rights violations under the coup. The Delahunt-Serrano-McGovern Resolution in Congress calls for suspension of non-humanitarian assistance to the coup regime.

Obama's remark insults these widespread citizen actions, which are exactly the kind of grassroots mobilization and participation in policy and democracy that he encouraged as a candidate. There is a derogatory stereotype at the root of the remarks too. We are all lumped into some "Yankees out of (fill in the blank)" class that is not only explicitly accused of being hypocritical but also portrayed as having knee-jerk and uninformed opinions.

"These same people", may or may not be veterans of past campaigns against U.S. intervention in Latin America. In many cases, it is the organizing experience, knowledge and dedication of many who did indeed help to bring to light U.S. illegal involvement in the Central American dirty wars and contra activities that is structuring the grassroots movement in the U.S. against the Honduran coup. Many of them helped elect Obama. His snide criticism has called into question for them the administration's commitment to real change in the policies they fought so hard to banish and that have done so much damage to the U.S. image abroad. Many U.S. delegations have traveled to Honduras in the past month, have studied the Honduran Constitution and reviewed the chain of events since June 28. Their views are not uninformed and much less inconsistent

Today Hondurans from all over the country are converging on Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in a show of strength to protest the coup. They have called on the U.S. government to cut off the lifeline it still holds out to the coup. They have not asked for intervention, just a chance to restore democracy in their country.

At the same time, the coup-controlled Honduran press is having a heyday with the Obama remarks. La Tribuna has a picture of Obama on the front page with the headline "Hypocrisy to Call for Intervention in Honduras"

The distinction between intervention and cutting off the coup is a no-brainer, and it's likely that Obama knows that. Given the international consensus that this is an illegal regime, sanctions follow by law. They are a withdrawal of support for a military-backed action condemned by the entire international community, not support for one legitimate faction over another in an internal democratic dispute.

The definition of hypocrisy is to have a pretense of a belief or commitment you do not actually hold or act on. Doubt about the true aims of the State Department in Honduras are on the rise as time goes by with funds flowing to the coup government, no further action on the part of the administration, and the coup still entrenched in power.

I would like to believe the administration's commitment to democracy in Honduras and the hemisphere is real. But the time has come to show some proof of that beyond resolutions and rhetoric. If the Obama administration fails to act on its stated commitment to restore President Zelaya to power, it opens itself up to the same accusation Obama rashly leveled at us in Guadalajara.

Aug 5, 2009

In Mexico, Zelaya Criticizes "Weakness" of the International Community


* Zelaya tells Mexican supporters "patience is running out"
* Says Army had instructions to "eliminate" him
* Asks Calderon to discuss Honduran coup with Obama at North American Summit

President Zelaya spoke to hundreds of Mexican supporters in Mexico City on August 5, to affirm his commitment to restore democracy in his country and underline the importance of the Mexican and U.S. governments in ending the coup.

The Mexico City government, which earlier presented Zelaya with the keys to the city, organized the event with members of grassroots organizations. Hundreds of men, women and children from the urban popular movement, debtors' organizations, unions and universities waved Honduran flags in the elegant Teatro de la Ciudad, frequently breaking into the speech to shout cheers and slogans. The setting contrasted sharply with the international diplomatic forums he has appeared in since being ousted by a military coup on June 28.


"This is almost the first coup of the 21st century, the first to be condemned by the international community, the first to have massive sanctions applied," Zelaya told the crowd. He called the current stalemate in spite of diplomatic actions a reflection of the "weakness of the international community," and appealed for the right of the people to peaceful resistance.

Zelaya said, "Our people have the right to resist repression with all the arms of our democratic system but also peaceful insurrection... Patience has limits—I'm advising all the recalcitrant right from Washington to Tierra del Fuego." At the same time he reaffirmed that theirs is a "peaceful, civic and tolerant struggle, but patience is running out."

"International solidarity has been extraordinary against the coup but we think that it is insufficient. There is still more to do in the international arena to build support, to repudiate this event that has shamed our country, but with the shame falling on the shoulders of the groups that exercise illegitimate power."

In one of his most political speeches, Zelaya detailed the achievements of his government in growth and raising the minimum wage, saying that despite the advances, the elites "didn't want to share."

He explained the principle of "poder cuidadano"—citizen power. This principle combines two concepts, he said, empowerment and citizenship. He went through the conflicts leading up to the coup, particularly the decision to consult the population on voting in November elections on whether to convoke a Constitutional Assembly. He noted that the law of citizen participation gives the people the power to be consulted on major decisions and was a critical step to "pass from a representative democracy to a participatory democracy."

"A president can't resolve the problems of the country alone. You need the large majorities, to listen to them, not just in elections—you need to listen to them in decisions. The people aren't just there to elect, but also to decide... on development plans, on international trade treaties..."

He told the audience that the economic and political elite "erred in every sense of the word. They were wrong about the people—they thought the people wouldn't resist like in the last century. They were wrong about the country—Honduras is no longer willing to put up with a return to arms... They got the wrong century—they don't realize that in the 21st century, the citizens of the world have a different awareness, different training" and that "we have a humble people, often vulnerable, but determined to struggle for guarantees of their constitutional rights, their human rights and their universal rights."

"And they were wrong about the president." Zelaya said the coup offered him money to stay in exile, which he refused. He plans to return to the border with Nicaragua to prepare to return to Honduras.

Later Zelaya revealed that the head of Honduran Armed Forces, General Romeo Vasquez, called him in Nicaragua. In the conversation, Zelaya said Vasquez told him, "'Mr. President, we received instructions that you were to be eliminated in the capture (eliminated meaning assassinated). And we decided then, the Joint Command, that are your friends (Zelaya paused to question the term friends) that to preserve your life we had to take you out of the country.'"

Zelaya told the audience, "I'm telling you this because the radical positions of the traitorous right came to this extreme."


U.S. Role is Critical

Zelaya both affirmed the role of the international community in ending the coup while pointing out that the persistence of the coup in power in Honduras demonstrates its "weakness" and the need for a stronger U.S. leadership role.

"I recognize the force of the international community. When Sec. Hillary Clinton proposed Oscar Arias to me, I agreed because I wanted the U.S. to play a leading role."

"Many of the fundamental actors of the coup d'etat in Honduras did not come out of the government of Barack Obama but did come from the hawks in Washington who promoted them." He gave the specific example of U.S. congressional representatives "who have said publicly that the coup is good because it halts the social reforms of President Chavez, President Morales, Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega in Central America."

But he went on to express his frustration at the mediation process. "I think that apart from the good-faith efforts of Pres. Oscar Arias, who won a Nobel Peace Prize, they have treated the coup with kid gloves. This is a good time to clamp down."

"If President Barack Obama really wants to turn back this coup, these coup leaders will last all of five minutes because the economy of Honduras, all our military, commercial and migration activities, depend on the United States." Emphasizing how the Honduran coup is a test case for the new government, he added, "We'll see the extent of his sincerity, force and democratic conviction."

Zelaya announced that he spoke with Mexican President Felipe Calderon who offered his support. Calderon received the ousted Honduran president with full state honors yesterday. On this point, Zelaya had a tough audience. At the mention of the Mexican president's name, the crowd broke out in boos that scarcely let him continue. The uproar revealed the still-simmering resentment against what many people in this country, especially the poor and popular organizations that filled the theater, still consider the elections of 2006 to have been stolen and see Calderon's leadership as an illegitimate presidency.

Zelaya continued anyway. "[Calderon] will be with President Obama in Guadalajara and the force with which the United States decides to take effective actions will also depend on this meeting." On August 9, Obama will be in Mexico for a meeting of North American leaders on NAFTA's Security and Prosperity Partnership and other issues. He said that Mexicans must keep a close watch on the talks between Calderon and Obama, because they will have an impact "on the destiny of Latin America."

Courting Calderon to intervene with Obama is a strategic move at this stage of defeating the coup. Zelaya openly referred to something Washington insiders have been saying as the world tries to pinpoint what has seemed a vacillating position within the Obama administration. With U.S. forces consolidating in favor and against the coup and a marked difference in tone between the president and his Secretary of State, many have emphasized the major influence of the U.S.'s two most powerful allies in the region—Mexico and Brazil—in deciding to soften or strengthen pressures against the coup. There are powerful interests close to the government that prefer the coup to Zelaya, but one thing the Obama administration does not want to do is alienate these two countries.

Following the meeting with Zelaya yesterday, Calderon confirmed support for the Arias mediation process and asserted his "full support for restitution and pacification."

His remarks send a message to Washington but fall short of Brazil's position. Brazil has already come out saying there should be no conditions set on Zelaya's return and that any concessions to the coup in the framework of the mediation process would encourage further coups in the region. This contrasts with the Arias proposal to form a coalition government including coup supporters.

Nearing the end, Zelaya noted the strength of the Honduran resistance. "Today I want to express my solidarity with the Honduran people. We are 37 days into a teachers' strike... It's not just to protest the coup—what the teachers say is that they can't go to the classroom to teach the children how coups are made, they want to teach them how to revert coups d'etat in the streets."

Honduran organizations are now on the frontline of the battle to defeat the coup in their country. Zelaya noted the determination of unions, women and workers in carrying out more than 100 peaceful civilian road blockades and called on the international community to support Radio Globo, almost alone, he noted, in reporting on repression by the coup and currently facing closure by the coup regime that controls the media in the country.

To the enthusiastic crowd, Zelaya framed his dilemma as a struggle without borders. "When the struggle is for a value, a principle, there are no borders, there are no countries."