Sep 28, 2009

Coup Declares State of Siege, Suspends Constitutional Rights

On Sept. 26 the coup regime took abuse of illegitimate power one giant step forward by issuing an Executive Decree to suspend guaranteed rights under Articles 69, 72, 78, 81 and 84 of the Honduran Constitution, with the pretext of "serious disruption of the peace". The decree justifies the suspension of rights citing vandalism and "the quantity of illegal protesters".

Although not announced as such, the decree declares a virtual state of siege in the country
through the suspension of civil liberties. The decree is scheduled to be in effect for 45 days from the date of issue.

Freedom of movement for all Hondurans has now been prohibited formally, "according to the parameters established by press releases from the (coup) Presidency that will contain the territory and duration of the curfew". All unauthorized public meetings are also prohibited.

In an ominous move, the coup regime warns that violence has now been "legally" authorized. The decree, sent out in its published form by First Lady Xiomara Zelaya, states that the National Police can use violent means of repression: "The Police can use the force of coactive instruments when the use of nonviolent procedures has been exhausted or failed..." and authorizes the Armed Forces to assist the police in executing the decree. The Army has been involved in the repression since Day One of the coup on June 28 but this "official" statement represents close to an all-out declaration of violent repression against the movement.

The Executive Decree orders the arrest of "any person found breaking the curfew, or in any way presumed suspicious by police or military authorities of causing harm to persons or goods, any who associate to commit crimes or whose life is in danger." It also orders the Armed Forces to "take over any public installation taken over by demonstrators" and calls on all public agencies to use the police and Armed Forces to carry out their activities. It is signed by coup leader Roberto Micheletti and his ersatz cabinet.

As the resistance buries yet another victim of coup repression, Wendy Avila (see photo above), not a single death has been attributed to the nonviolent anti-coup forces.

Shut Down of Critical Media

Under Article 3 of the Decree, CONATEL, the state communications agency "through the use of the National Police and Armed Forces, is authorized to suspend any radio, television or cable system that does not conform its programming to the present dispositions", which are defined by the coup as "offending human dignity or government functionaries, disobeying the law or government resolutions or any attempt against the peace or public order."

The ninth justification for suspension of basic rights in the decree states: "Some spoken and televised social communications media are using their authorized frequencies to generate hate and violence against the state (read: coup regime), disturbing national tranquility, calling for popular insurrection and psychologically damaging listeners."

Radio Globo and Channel 36 have already been closed down. Radio Globo provided Hondurans with real news of the repression and resistance in Tegucigalpa and throughout the nation. Its on-site reports carried beyond the borders of the country through its Internet site. During the times when foreign services like ours did not have analysts in Honduras, we blogged critical events directly from the interviews and chronicles coming off Radio Globo, such as this report from the border on July 25. The Americas Program will continue to maintain direct contact with resistance leaders such as Bertha Caceres, Bertha Oliva, Rafael Alegria, Feminists in Resistance and Juan Barahona but will miss the up-to-date information provided by Radio Globo. Our reporter on-the-ground, Dick Emanuelsson, has returned to Tegucigalpa and will be filing exclusive stories from there with immediate translations from our round-the-clock team of volunteer translators. Information in Spanish can still be obtained from Radio Progreso here.

Although Internet communication and reporting from some on-site media remains possible, this latest attack on freedom of expression cannot be allowed by the international community. Cutting off information in the information age is a direct attack on the truth and the right of Hondurans and all people to information. To give an idea of the biased reporting in the mainstream English press, the New York Times article linked below omits any mention whatsoever of the decree and Reuters includes only this brief note.

PR Offensive in Washington

Faced with its own plummeting position, the coup regime has hired another PR firm in Washington to whitewash image in Congress. The Hill reports that Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates negotiated a four-month contract, worth over $290,000, with the Honduran coup regime that was filed with the Justice Department on Sept. 18 to “advance the level of communication, awareness and media/policy maker attention about the political situation in Honduras.” The PR efforts are reportedly aimed at Capitol Hill aides, opinion leaders and media outlets.

This is the first time reported that the de facto regime contracted directly, that is to say, with Honduran public funds it should not even have access to were it not for its illegal takeover. It remains to be seen to what degree the media can be bought and Congress influenced by high-paid lobbyists. The Washington Post recently published an op-ed by Micheletti in which it actually signed the coup leader "President of Honduras"—a title not recognized by any nation in the world and a new low for U.S. journalism. Honduran businessmen have previously contracted with Washington PR firms including Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, Vision America and former Clinton aid Lanny Davis to justify the coup in U.S. media. Using the revolving door strategy of selling politics, several of the new coup lobbyists are reported to have inside contacts, including Mike Buttry, former chief of staff to former Sen. Chuck Hagel and Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for Pres. George W. Bush´s 2004 reelection campaign.

Honduran Dictatorship Unmasked, Resistance Vows to Continue

Note the wording in this decree. As a political analyst by training and profession, I'm not fond of hyperbole or glib classifications. But no thinking person can fail to see the bald elements of a classic dictatorship in these lines. For the Honduran coup regime, media not controlled by coup leaders "psychologically damages" Honduran citizens and must be shut down immediately. This is the opposite of democracy and true citizenship, which cannot be exercised even minimally in the absence of freedom of expression.

As part of the dictatorial crackdown, the de facto government also expelled four members of a delegation from the Organization of the American States, although they had previously been invited. The OAS permanent council will meet today to discuss the situation. The coup has refused to allow Argentina, Spain, Mexico and Venezuela to return their Embassy personnel to the country. With no OAS or other country diplomats allowed in the country, this leaves a questionable situation in which the U.S. government is practically the sole operating interlocutor within the country. The Obama administration did not withdraw its Ambassador following the illegal takeover of the government, despite repeated demands from U.S.-based organizations, including this one.

Micheletti issued a ten-day ultimatum to Brazil to "define the situation of Zelaya", citing its own "infinite patience". President Zelaya his family and supporters, as well as foreign Embassy personal are still housed in the Embassy. Brazilian President Lula de Silva responded promptly and firmly, stating “Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup-mongers,” he said. Brazil, in the powerful figures of Lula and Foreign Secretary Celso Amorim, has taken a leadership role in demanding that the coup step down and restore constitutional order in the country.

Anti-coup forces have responded to the decree by taking precautions but keeping up resistance. People are leaving the military-occupied neighborhoods in smaller groups and seek refuge from repression. The National Front Against the Coup plans a mega-march today, despite the crackdown.

At a meeting yesterday that paid homage to the most recent coup murder of Wendy Avila and discussed strategy following the draconian Executive Decree, resistance leaders urged the movement to mobilize.

Juan Barahona said, "Tomorrow (Monday) we will gather outside the University, everyone to the streets with or without the curfew, we must challenge this dictatorship that confronts us to stay home. Sept. 28 marks three months of resistance in the streets... this is our month to defeat the coup." He noted that under the curfew groups should arrive in small numbers to receive further instructions in a highly disciplined manner.

Israel Salinas emphasized the demand is for a constitutional assembly and that the movement is nationwide: "Our spirits are high, we cannot lose our optimism, we mustn't let anything stop us. We must paralyze the country from Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, El Progreso, Teja, Tocoa, etc... Without Mel, no to elections; a return to constitutionality; a Constitutional Assembly and a new constitution."

Bertha Cáceres of COPINH also addressed the meeting. "In the name of the indigenous peoples, the brave Garifunas in resistance and the women, we stand in solidarity with Wendy´s husband and family" and affirmed "these crimes will not be left in impunity."

In response to the decree, President Zelaya called for anti-coup forces to march today as a "final offensive" against the falling coup regime.

1. Another truly regrettable declaration from the Obama adminstration. The BBC reports that U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Lewis Amselm, made the following statement at the emergency session today: "The return of Zelaya [without] an agreement is irresponsible and foolish. He should cease and desist from making wild allegations and from acting as though he were starring in an old movie." Amselm added, "Having chosen, with outside help, to return on his own terms, President Zelaya and those who have facilitated his return, bear particular responsibility for the actions of his supporters." Imagine a third world leader acting "on his own terms"! And still not a word denouncing human rights violations. We seriously wonder where the new U.S. foreign policy is and why it seems to have no spokespersons in this administration.

Sep 25, 2009

The Sound and Fury of the Honduran Coup: Acoustic and Chemical Attacks on Brazilian Embassy

* "Acoustic arms" employed by coup government against Brazilian Embassy and protesters
*Analysis of chemicals used in attack on Embassy
*Reports of radioactive cesium
*Offshore factory workers forced to make up days lost due to coup curfews
*Political ground shifted to demand for constitutional reforms

We have received many reports today of the use of sonic devices and chemical warfare in attacks on the Brazilian Embassy by the Honduran coup. The use of Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) has been confirmed by observers and journalists, who report that the devices are being installed throughout the area. Numerous photographers have also documented their use.

The UN Security Council today called upon the de facto government of Honduras to "cease harassing the Brazilian Embassy" and "condemned acts of intimidation." (See photo above: the caption on the first photo of the LRAD reads "State-of-the-art Israeli artifact used in repression and torture that causes damage to the ear and loss of equilibrium. What President Zelaya denounced from the Brazilian Embassy.") The second photo (below) shows the installation near the Embassy.

These devices are described as a "non-lethal weapon" produced by the U.S.-based American Technology Corporation. They emit painful sound at 151 db. with a range of 300 meters on land, and are used in situations of war and to control demonstrations.

While acoustics weapons have been used over the past several days, today the Armed Forces actually began to spray the Embassy with poisonous gases and by some accounts pump them into the building through the drainage system. The Honduran News Network reports that First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya climbed a ladder to ascertain the source of the attacks and was sprayed with chemicals. She and others in the Embassy are reportedly bleeding profusely as a result of the effects of the chemicals.

Father Andres Tamayo described the situation to Radio Progreso, "Over a thousand soldiers in front (of the Embassy) left and returned with a cistern and helicopters spraying gases. There are also neighbors that lent their houses to spray these substances and house the military. They have placed pipes to spread the gases. We feel a tightness in our stomachs and throat, vomiting, dizziness and some people are urinating blood. There are more than a thousand people around here and at this moment all we can do is drink a little milk."

A press conference was called to reveal the results of the analysis of the gas, done by public health specialist Dr. Mauricio Castellanos.

  • Above normal concentrations of ammonia, which is used as a base of pepper gas
  • Concentration detected between 100 and 200 particles per thousand
  • Hydrocyanic acid, which produces a rapid reaction upon inhalation when it comes in contact with the iron in the blood producing vertigo, nausea, stomach pain, headaches and breathing difficulties
The report concluded, "This mixture is a purely military technology, prohibited under international treaties. Exposure for a prolonged period is lethal to any living organism."

Juan Almendares, a Honduran medical doctor and human rights leader, states:

"The occupants of the Brazilian Embassy that accompany President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, his wife and family, communities and protesters are the object of the launching of chemical arms from helicopters and airplanes or on the ground troops and the use of sophisticated sound and electromagnetic equipment that have produced severe diarrhea, vomiting, nasal hemorrhages and gastrointestinal problems in both the Embassy and surrounding areas."

"According to the clinical reports, this could be due to the usage of toxic substances including: pesticides, chemical components of gases, radioactive substances like radioactive cesium and toxic mushrooms."

"It is urgent that an international medical team from the United Nations and the World Health Organization be sent. We are facing an irregular war against the people of Honduras. The Armed Forces do not allow the International Red Cross entry into the Brazilian Embassy, violating all international health treaties and conventions and human rights."

Numerous reports, including Honduran News Network sources, also mentioned the use of radioactive cesium. If the use of radioactive cesium is confirmed, the consequences are very serious. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry finds that the effects of high levels include the symptoms listed above and even coma and death.

This is the notorious "day-after" effect of nuclear bombs. The agency adds that "it is reasonable to expect that individuals exposed to high levels of radiation from a source of radioactive cesium will develop the same types of cancer observed in survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan."

As described in the Sept. 22 blog, embassies are protected under the Vienna Convention and any violation of this is an international issue. With the notable exceptions of Colombia and the United States, all nations of the region expressed concern about the Honduran situation at the 64th UN General Assembly meeting.

As the society breaks down into a coup-provoked crisis, the Women's Collective CODEMUH writes that workers in offshore assembly plants have been forced to work overtime to make up for time lost due to the coup's curfews, in clear violation of labor law.

The Collective notes, "According to Article 23 of the Labor Code, ‘Workers can participate in profits or benefits of the boss, but never assume the risks and losses,’ meaning that business cannot charge workers for the losses caused by the national political crisis, which the businessmen and women are key actors in causing. Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot force workers to pay for the losses that you provoked with the coup d'etat.”

"We call on transnational brands like Nike, GAP, Adidas, Hanes, HBI and Walmart, among others, as well as university students in the U.S. and consumers in general, who wear the products produced in the sweatshops of Honduras, to demand the offshore industry pay its workers for the days they did not show up for work due to the curfew of the de facto government, without requiring that they make up these days. And that the workers refuse to accept these extra days."

President Zelaya has called on “the resistance to maintain the fight that together, the people and the president will achieve the constitutional reforms and fall of the usurpers."

With the no-holds-barred repression unleashed by the coup regime and the increasing militancy and organization of the resistance—still adhering to principles of non-violence, to their credit—the political ground has once again shifted in Honduras. The terms of the San Jose Accords, hammered out by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and consistently rejected by the coup regime, have become clearly obsolete. The demand for a constitutional assembly has grown in breadth and volume throughout the country. The urgent tasks before the international community are to recognize that the crisis requires structural reforms and not patch-ups, to halt the human rights violations immediately, and to take all diplomatic steps toward the reinstatement of the constitutional government.

Sep 23, 2009

Honduran Crisis Explodes: Persecution and Panic-Buying Under Coup Crackdown

The Honduran coup has dropped all pretenses of legality over the past few days as it enters into a phase of desperate repression since the return of President Manuel Zelaya on Sept. 21 and the surge in grassroots mobilization against the coup.

The resistance march yesterday reported many detained, beaten and chased. Photos reveal the brutality of the torture that arrested demonstrators have undergone. Neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa report that military tanks have been moved in to break up groups of protesters. The Armed Forces have threatened movement leaders and are targeting teachers and youths.

The coup regime lifted the general curfew for several hours yesterday, leading to panic-buying and a run on banks. The curfew was then imposed again "indefinitely", causing even greater panic. Following pressure from the U.S. government and others, the increasingly erratic coup regime lifted the curfew today.

But no-one knows how long that will last since the regime depends on repression to maintain power. It also means more people will be in the streets and subject to arbitrary arrest and beatings. Demonstrations in Tegucigalpa have grown daily despite the curfews, road blocks and repression. Neighborhoods throughout the capital city and in many other cities are organized and carrying out daily protests.

Jessica Sanchez of Feminists in Resistance, just sent in this account of how the police are even raiding hospitals to capture wounded demonstrators after beating them:

"I just got back from the hsopital where I took my brothers who were arrested by the police after the march and savagely beaten, while the police screamed that this way they would learn not to go around in marches and that Mel couldn't save them from a beating. One of my brothers (21 years old) has bruised lungs from the beating and the other has two broken hands... They also detained several compañeras from Feminists in Resistance who were later released because they were carrying their identification as part of the Women's Human Rights Observatory. What seems incredible to me is that the police are taking people (mostly youths) from the hospital... They are going into the hospitals every two hours, to see who they'll take out. WE CAN'T ALLOW THIS! The Red Cross hasn't done anything, but there are nurses and members of the resistance inside the hospital who helped us a lot."

We have received reports of persecution by police on motorcycles, hunting down protesters like animals. An eight-year old boy became the latest casualty—not coincidentally, all on the side of the people against the coup—when he died yesterday of tear gas asphyxiation.

Juan Almendares, of the Honduran Center for Torture Prevention, reports that Honduras has become "the largest prison in the world." He notes, "There is a permanent state of siege here. Human rights organizations and medics are not even allowed to attend to the tortured and wounded. The office of the Committee for Families of the Disappeared was bombed with tear gas... Children and the sick in the hospitals are undernourished since with the curfew, which is a death warrant, they do not receive food and are dying of hypoglycemia."

These facts are not disputed and have been corroborated and denounced in recent days. Amnesty International called the situation "alarming" and called for the de facto regime to "stop the policy of repression and violence and instead respect the rights of freedom of expression and association." The organization added, "We also urge the international community to urgently seek a solution, before Honduras sinks even deeper into a human rights crisis." The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has requested permission to send an emergency delegation.

In developments in the international arena, Brazilian President Lula da Silva used his address to the UN General Assembly to call for the immediate reinstatement of President Zelaya, who is still holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

"The international community demands that Mr Zelaya immediately return to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil's diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras," he stated.

International organizations have joined the Brazilian government in calling for action from the UN Security Council (see letter below). UN Secretary General announced that UN support for the Honduran elections scheduled for Nov. 29 and has been suspended due to the lack of minimum requirements for "credible elections" under the coup. Anti-coup forces have vowed to boycott the elections and Panama's new rightwing government is alone in claiming it would recognize the results.

The situation has reached all-out crisis proportions. Urgent action is needed from everyone who believes in democracy, and seeks to stop the bloodshed and avoid the terrible precedent of rule by force in the Hemisphere.

To take action:

1. Contact the State Department here. Find more information here.

2. Send organizational endorsements to the UN Security Council below to:

Open Letter to Security Council Members on Addressing the Crisis in Honduras

Dear Ambassador,

As feminist organizations and networks and women’s groups working to address the crisis caused by the recent coup d’état in Honduras, we look to the United Nations Security Council urgently to act to address this crisis. We call on the Security Council to condemn the repressive actions and human rights violations committed by the coup government against the Honduran people, to protect the civilian population of Honduras and to support an immediate return to constitutional order, in accordance with existing international treaties and agreements to which the state of Honduras is a signatory.

We look forward to your government, as a member of the Council, supporting a strong and compelling statement from the international community. We also look forward to your support for urgent and immediate measures to address the security situation in Honduras and to protect and safeguard the rights of the Honduran people, including women who are being particularly affected by this crisis. This support would be an affirmation of the Security Council’s commitments expressed in resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security.

Since the return of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya to Honduras on September 21, the country has seen a dramatic rise in violence by the military and police forces causing further insecurity for the people of Honduras and a suspension of their civil liberties, following the orders of the de facto regime:

• An unjustified curfew was decreed, beginning September 21, 2009, to suppress the peaceful gatherings in support of President Zelaya’s return – including the violent suppression of a large gathering outside of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Electrical power was cut off for 48 hours and there are widespread reports of human rights violations committed in response to these gatherings.

• At 5 a.m. on September 22, police and military contingents, using tear gas, dyed water, shrill alarms, beatings and bullets, forcibly removed those who remained in front of the Brazilian embassy. There are preliminary reports of three people being killed by gunshots to the head and reports of many others being assaulted; including an eight-year-old boy who died due to tear gas asphyxiation.

Those remaining near the embassy, including many children, are under siege conditions and are not being allowed access to food or water. Furthermore, press freedoms are being severely restricted and members of the international media who were at or near the Brazilian Embassy have been beaten and forcibly removed by the police.

• People who were making their way towards the Brazilian embassy from different parts of the city and from throughout the country have been detained on the road and prevented from moving freely. The military has set up roadblocks to prevent convoys from entering the city.

• Those who were detained or injured are being held in illegal detention centers, such as those set up at Chochi Sosa stadium and at San Francisco military base. In San Pedro Sula, detainees are being taken to the Olympic Stadium. Reports as to the number of detainees vary between 150 and 1,000. The military has even detained people who were in hospitals. This situation is reminiscent of the coup d’état in Chile in 1973, when thousands of innocent people were captured and detained at the stadium in Santiago.

In all of this, Honduran women have found themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation – both as participants in the resistance and as families of detainees. The preliminary results of the Feminist Fact-Finding Mission that was carried out in August by a delegation of human rights defenders from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America documented numerous cases of abuse and sexual harassment committed by the police force. These facts and other reports from numerous other international fact-finding missions to Honduras in the wake of this coup confirm that bold action is needed.

We look forward to receiving your support in urgently addressing this crisis.


(Photos: Walter Javier Rodgriguez)

Sep 22, 2009

Clinton, Speak Clearly Now to Avoid a Massacre in Honduras

This is an urgent plea to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Immediately condemn the violence unleashed against the Honduran people by the de facto regime and take every peaceful measure possible to avoid a bloodbath in that country.

The coup has deployed the police and Armed Forces to the Brazilian Embassy and launched a violent attack on the thousands of protesters gathered there to support President Manuel Zelaya. The repression has resulted in scores of citizens wounded and taken prisoners, and unconfirmed reports of two dead. The euphoria that erupted in Honduras yesterday with the appearance of the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa has rapidly changed to terror as the huge demonstration finds itself under siege.

The Armed Forces took over the dispatch center of the electricity system this morning and cut off the circuits that supply electricity to independent media, particularly television's Channel 36 and Radio Globo—the most important outlets for information not controlled by the regime. Many cell phones are blocked, and all national airports have been closed to prevent the arrival of international diplomats and reporters.

Observers fear that the coup is planning to order the armed forces to storm the Brazilian embassy. Such a blatantly illegal and violent act would convert the Honduran crisis into an international crisis of unprecedented proportions. The coup has cut off electricity to the embassy where President Zelaya is protected, and the embassy is operating on an independent generator.

In a live interview at 9:30 this morning EDT, President Zelaya called on the entire international community to condemn the repression. He stated that he is safe for the moment, accompanied by embassy personnel and women resistors who managed to take refuge in the Embassy.

"There is a regimen of terror in the country that should be attended to by the international community," he stated. When questioned about the possible siege of the embassy, Zelaya urged the international community to "act with firmness so the regime will not carry out this terrible crime."

Meanwhile, coup leader Roberto Micheletti denied his responsibility for the failure of the San Jose pact and called for the immediate arrest of President Zelaya. Head of the Armed Forces Gen. Romeo Velasquez stated that the army will continue to comply with orders from the coup.

Luz Mejias, president of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, noted in an interview this morning that the Commission is receiving "very serious reports of violations of human rights" by the Armed Forces. "We must establish the responsibility of each and every individual who issued these orders to repress protesters... The situation is very grave." She called for the restitution of constitutional order "because only the restoration of constitutional order will guarantee that the human rights of all Honduras are respected," and urged the return to power of the constitutional president "who has been received with violent repression." Mejias noted that the curfew, now extended to 6 p.m., is a clear violation of human rights and legal norms and affirmed that the individuals who ordered these measures must be charged under international criminal law.

Faced with what many see as an imminent threat of siege on the embassy, Mejias noted, "If they forcibly enter the embassy, it will be a violation not only of human rights but of international law. Embassies are impenetrable and immune under the Treaty of Vienna... The Brazilian State would be in a very complicated situation. We hope that will not happen." She called for respect for the right to demonstrate and stated that the presence of the constitutional president in Honduras should be seen as an opportunity to enter into a dialogue that fully respects the human rights of Hondurans and assigns responsibility for the serious violations taking place under the coup.

The coup's actions over the past 24 hours violate international law and the basic principles of U.S. foreign policy. Sec. of State Clinton and President Obama must speak out to condemn these measures, which include:
  1. The closure of airports in the entire country
  2. Armed Forces cut-off of electricity to independent media
  3. The violent eviction of peaceful demonstrators supporting Zelaya's return
  4. The militarization of Tegucigalpa, with the presence of specialized police forces, the army and masked agents
  5. Attacks with tear gas and bullets
  6. Persecution of movement leaders and arbitrary arrests
  7. Restriction of movement at all major entry points to the capital city
Women's organizations are once again playing a major role in the resistance. One of the leaders of Feminists in Resistance who we worked closely with on the women's delegation last August and whose name I will omit sent this missive just moments ago:

"Early this morning, military forces attacked those of us outside the Brazilian Embassy. There are no words to describe the brutality of the attack—they chased us, threw bombs, beat us and now are hunting down everyone who took refuge in the surrounding area. There are 65 of us, mostly women and children here; we are under siege, our telephones are tapped, there is a squad three houses away and they are making rounds searching for signs of life to burst in. We have very little water and no food, the tear gas has permeated the atmosphere and our eyes and noses are irritated. Some of the women have been taken prisoners and according to the last communication they have been taken to a stadium called Chochi Sosa. The electricity went back on recently and so we are able to send this e-mail. We can hear the military movements outside, the cars, helicopters, bombs, shots, clashing of metal, stomping of boots, sirens and in a cruel joke on all Honduran citizens they are playing the national anthem at full volume over and over.

"We call for support for all the people who are being protected by Feminists in Resistance and for the compañeras who are doing everything possible to get us humanitarian aid despite the fact that the armed forces won't let anyone through, not with medicines or food or anything. We're completely isolated; we want everyone to contribute by denouncing the violation of basic human rights being perpetrated by the military forces of the de facto regime."

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton cannot call herself an international advocate of women's rights while ignoring the plight of these Honduran women who are a worldwide inspiration for feminist organizing in the fight for democracy. She cannot call herself a representative of U.S. values abroad while turning a blind eye to the brutality and illegality of a coup regime crazed by power and isolated among governments for its lack of respect for the rule of law.

Clinton continues to make statements divorced from the current dire reality in Honduras. In a meeting yesterday with President Oscar Arias she stated, "...we have certainly communicated very directly our expectation that there will be order and no provocation on either side. This is not just a one-sided request. It goes to both sides. Both sides have supporters who need to be restrained and careful in their actions in the days ahead." Today the reality is that the Armed Forces under the coup regime are carrying out not just a "provocation" but a brutal attack on protesters. Yet the images, the testimonies and the news reports are still being ignored by the U.S. government.

The U.S. government must issue a firm statement in defense of human rights and the strongest possible message to the coup to desist in its attack on the Honduran people and the constitutional order.

For More Information:
Global Exchange Action Center:
Act today to insist that the US State Department speak clearly, honestly, and urgently about the explosive situation in Honduras.

Sep 21, 2009

Zelaya's Return to Tegucigalpa Brings Coup Closer to its End

* Calls for face-to-face dialogue, without mediation

* Coup "betrayed and made a mockery of" the Arias process
* Zelaya building public international support and meeting with resistance leaders
* Calls for Hondurans from around the country to gather in Tegucigalpa

At midday today, 86 days since the military coup d'etat in Honduras, President Zelaya returned to join the resistance movement in the final stretch of the long fight to restore constitutional order. As a spy helicopter buzzed the demonstrators and police poured into the area, thousands of supporters gather outside the Brazilian embassy to receive the President. (Telesur has continuous coverage here in Spanish.)

In his first comments, Zelaya declared a "day of celebration." Zelaya called on everyone to gather at the Brazilian Embassy, and reasserted the commitment to non-violence. "I'm not afraid of the judicial process," he affirmed, and added he would face any accusations but that so far all the coup had produced was calumnious statements.

Zelaya is lining up his support and his strategy in these moments. He announced that he was waiting for communication from President Lula, the OAS, the United Nations, the European Union and others in an interview with Telesur. He said his plan is to initiate internal dialogue and that the idea is to demonstrate the support of the international community without involving it in the dialogue. He added that he had not spoken with the de facto government and was meeting with his cabinet and resistance groups.

The legitimate president of Honduras called on the Armed Forces to maintain the calm. "The Armed Forces are part of the people, they come from the villages and neighborhoods and should never point their guns at their own people," he stated. He urged a process to "recover peace and tranquility" in the country.

Although the police are deploying to control the growing crowd, resistance leaders are maintaining control. In a Telesur interview, Juan Barahona, a leader of the National Front Against the Coup, expressed his opinion that the "Army cannot launch an offensive here—there are too many people."

A visibly shaken Roberto Michelleti appeared before on CNN, denying that Zelaya was in the country and claiming that the news was an invention of "media terrorism" to stir people up and provoke a huge mobilization. "It's not true. He (Zelaya) is relaxing in a suite in Managua," Micheletti told the press with a chuckle. He later added that if the news turned out to be true, Zelaya would be arrested.

By that time, Zelaya's return had already been confirmed. As the coup chief went into denial, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom confirmed the news, stating that he hoped this would mean the end of the coup. US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly confirmed the presence of the "democratically elected president" in Honduras in a brief statement calling for all sides to avoid violence, and President Chavez of Venezuela praised Zelaya for what he called his "peaceful and courageous" return. Zelaya is reportedly meeting with resistance leaders at this moment.

By showing up without violent confrontations at the Brazilian Embassy before thousands of cheering supporters, Zelaya plays his strongest cards. As most eyes were on the Obama administration—and with good reason given its power in affecting economic and political sanctions—Brazil has been a low-profile but high-impact actor in the drama. Its power as a regional leader carries clout not only with other nations throughout Latin American but also with the United States, which cannot risk strained relations with the South American giant.

Hondurans are expected to continue to arrive in Tegucigalpa from all over the country. This massive display of support also strengthens Zelaya's hand. His most important base and chance for restoration has been in the popular mobilizations that have not missed a day since June 28.

Zelaya's peaceful journey and bloodless return also underline the non-violent character of the resistance movement since the beginning. The president gained the capital without provoking confrontation, thus taking the wind out of the sails of the State Department's previous reasons for opposing his return. Now he is back in the capital, close to a return to power—a condition of the San Jose Accords. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has no excuse for not supporting Zelaya's return and efforts at internal reconciliation.

Sep 10, 2009

Honduran Coup Squeezed From Above and Below—But is it Enough to Restore Democracy?

The political crawl space that Honduran coup leaders packed themselves into on June 28 would appear to be running out of air.

A burgeoning grassroots movement from below and continued pressures from the international community above have reduced the space, although the coup-mongers continue to control access to the state apparatus and use the Armed Forces to support their stand-off with the world and the Honduran people. They stubbornly insist that they will run their illegal government, stage their unrecognized elections, spend out the coffers of their impoverished and divided nation—no matter what anybody says or does. From their basement stronghold, the strategy of hunkering down relies on military forces in the streets to fend off challenges and reliable sources of outside supplies. With grassroots challenges growing throughout the country and outside supplies being cut off, the question the world is asking is: how long can this last?

Pressure or Simulation from Above?

Measuring the coup's current air supply is a tricky undertaking. There are few, if any historical precedents. South America's military dictatorships lasted decades, but at a huge human cost in assassinations and repression, without the international opprobrium and sanctions and with support from the U.S. government.

One part of the task at hand is to evaluate the real impact of current sanctions against the Honduran coup. On Sept. 3, the State Department announced the termination of $33 million dollars, including $11 million in Millennium Challenge Funds and approximately $22 in State Department funds. The State Department finally broke down these numbers for reporters in a teleconference: $9.4 million from USAID (including $8.7 million in development assistance and Economic Support Funds and $2.7 million in child survival and health), State Dept. money at $8.96 million ($6.5 million in Foreign Military Financing, $361,000 in International Military Education and Training, and $1.72 million in global peacekeeping operations) and $1.7 in 1206 security assistance. This is added to the $16.5 million in military aid suspended in July.

State Department officials closed the door on determining legally that a military coup took place in Honduras and requiring application of Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations law. They assured reporters that all funds that could be suspended under Section 7008 have now been suspended. This is a highly debatable contention that requires further research.

In any case, the sanctions imposed are dwarfed by the money that continues to go to the illegal regime.
The State Department has admitted that $70 million in aid—over twice the amount suspended—will still flow to the coup. Following its meeting, the Millennium Challenge Fund declared on Sept. 9 the formal suspension of the $11 million. But Bill Conroy at Narco News reports that the Millennium Challenge Fund plans to sustain an estimated $100 million in funds to Honduras from now through the end of 2010. Funds that have already been disbursed are not even under review.

Then there are the international financial institutions where the U.S. has a controlling vote. Although the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and International Monetary Fund announced in early July a freeze on loans to Honduras, not all disbursements on approved loans are halted. The Americas Program has found that the IDB approved four loans in the four days before the coup—when the press was already reporting an imminent rupture. This was the highest concentration of approvals in recent history and total over $70 million dollars. IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno stated that the bank would not be providing any new credits, meaning disbursements on these loans continue.

Diplomatic sanctions have been equally ambiguous. The refusal to issue the official designation of a military coup is an unjustifiable omission in legal and moral terms, regardless of the sanctions imposed. One reporter asked:
"But for the lay person, it’s very hard to understand, I think, why you wouldn't view it as a military coup when the military was clearly so intimately involved in his removal from office and exile." State Department Officials One and Two both eluded the question, stating only that an "important signal" was being sent through the actions. The move has more bark than bite though, since all the aid terminated had already been suspended. Now with the seeming refusal to ever declare the military coup, the State Department has taken a step backwards in opposing the coup and cut Congress out of any process of reviewing all U.S. aid to the coup regime or deciding on when suspensions are lifted.

Sending mixed messages appears to be the official U.S. policy on Honduras these days. The press reported that the U.S. Department of Defense invited the same Honduran Armed Forces that carried out the coup to participate in the regional PANAMAX exercises this week. A flurry of confusion ensued, with SouthCom stating that Honduras will not participate, the Honduran ambassador to Panama stating that Honduras is participating, and a Panamanian spokesperson for the exercises stating that Honduras was invited but will not send warships. Ambassador Juan Alfaro, loyal to President Zelaya, threw more fuel on the fire by adding, What seems odd to me is that military aid was suspended right after the coup and this shows that the Pentagon acts in one way and Obama in another. In another contradiction, School of the Americas Watch reports that the U.S. training facility linked to coup-mongers and torturers continues to train Honduran military personnel.

Some other measures announced by the U.S. government may be more effective in cutting off air supply to the coup than the weak sanctions and contradictory military cut-off. Visas were revoked for coup members, including leader Roberto Micheletti, business supporters and the 14 members of the Supreme Court. Perhaps most significant is the announcement that the U.S. government will not recognize the results of the November elections if they occur under the de facto regime. This announcement, followed by a similar announcement by the OAS, isolates the coup regime in its efforts to stage elections in a militarized country.

However, the U.S. has still not frozen the assets of those responsible for the coup. Questions exist about continued funding through democracy-promotion programs. These measures, or lack of measures, provide a continued air supply to the de facto regime. Support from international rightwing organizations also sustains the Honduran coup, although details of material and training support from these sources are scarce.

Hondurans Step up Grassroots Organizing

As all this goes on, the Honduran National Front Against the Coup is consolidating the movement for a return to constitutional order and a constitutional assembly. It decided to boycott the elections and candidates are being met by angry demonstrations throughout the country.

Through a combination of spontaneous local organizing and an explicit decision from the Front, organizing efforts have spread from the capital city of Tegucigalpa into the departments. A rotating national committee with regional representatives was formed. On the Atlantic coast, the city of La Ceiba has been particularly active. Groups have formed to defend teachers arrested for suspending classes two days a week to participate in the resistance in La Ceiba, El Paraiso and other parts of the country. New women's organizations have also formed to join the resistance to the coup in western Honduras, and poor neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa have created their own organizations to coordinate community actions.

The National Agrarian Institute has been in the hands of anti-coup organizations since June 28 and demonstrations have paralyzed other government institutions for periods of time since the coup. A lively debate exists on how to step up the pressure through these actions while maintaining the commitment to non-violence and avoiding situations that could lead to violent repression and conflict. The defense of human rights is an on-going pillar of the movement, as demonstrators are faced with repression and arbitrary arrests.

The battle to oust the illegal regime is far from over. Grassroots organizations in the United States have mobilized to support Honduran efforts for democracy. Lisa Sullivan of School of the Americas Watch is now touring major U.S. cities (see schedule here) and a Rights Action will also be touring in October (more information at U.S. citizens can attend these events to learn about what the press is not reporting and find ways to support democracy in our Hemisphere

Sep 3, 2009

To Defend Democracy, U.S. Government Must Condemn Honduran Coup

The leaders of Honduras’s military coup recently rebuffed a high-level delegation from the Organization of American States by once again refusing to allow the return of constitutional President Manuel Zelaya. As the international community throws up its hands at the coup’s intransigence, the U.S. State Department is sitting on its hands.

Two months after Zelaya was forcibly exiled in an Armed Forces plane to Costa Rica, the de facto regime has outlived predictions amid unanimous international condemnation. Coup leader Roberto Micheletti told OAS Secretary General Jose Insulza, “We are not afraid of an embargo by anybody. We have concluded that this country can move forward without the help of you or other countries.”

Days later, Micheletti qualified that statement. He admitted that the one country that has the power to make the illegal regime feel the pain is the United States. Honduras sends 70% of its exports to the U.S. market, remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. make up a fifth of the GDP and U.S. aid and investment is crucial to the national economy.

As the crisis drags on, criticisms mount that continued U.S. government delays in cutting off economic support contribute to the coup’s intransigence. The U.S. State Department has not issued a formal statement to Congress acknowledging the military coup in Honduras. Under Section 7008 of the U.S. Foreign Operations Bill, such a declaration mandates an immediate suspension of most aid until rule of law is restored.

Although Honduras is a small, impoverished nation that plays a relatively minor role in U.S. geopolitical strategy, the issues at stake make it a test case for a new foreign policy based on the principles of democracy and rule of law. The Obama administration’s initial response showed some major shifts from the foreign policy of its predecessor. By condemning the coup against Zelaya, a left-leaning leader in the hemisphere, it placed democratic principles above ideological criteria and showed a commitment to working within multilateral organizations to resolve the crisis.

Since then the U.S. position has begun to unravel. After the mediation efforts supported by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton broke down, the State Department still refused to act decisively. Millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money continue to flow to the coup regime through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, USAID and other aid.

This lack of firm action on the part of the U.S. government feeds criticism and contributes to building tensions in Honduras. As the State Department ponders supposed legal issues, human rights organizations including the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and our recent delegation on women’s human rights report massive human rights violations, including women who had been beaten and raped by police and military forces, assassinations, arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force against demonstrators and violations of basic rights freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.

The U.S. government has not responded to the reports of human rights violations in Honduras.

On Sept. 1 electoral campaigns began in the country. Under the coup regime, Honduras does not comply with even minimal conditions to carry out democratic elections. Many grassroots organizations have vowed to boycott any coup-sponsored elections. Brazil and Mexico issued a joint statement on Aug. 17 agreeing “not to recognize the authorities currently in office as result of a violation of the constitutional internal order or any result of elections not held by the legitimate government.” The U.S. has not announced its position.

We can help avoid a repeat scenario of Central America’s dark, dictatorial past—or eruption of an all-out war—in Honduras. The State Department must immediately send the required notice to Congress designating the coup in Honduras and cutting off funds and support. The Obama administration must also freeze assets of coup members, who have been spending down the coffers of the poverty-stricken country to repress defenders of democracy.

The message to Honduras and the world must be crystal clear: the United States does not support military coup d’états in this Hemisphere or anywhere else in the world.