Oct 30, 2009

Agreement to End Honduran Coup Marks Victory and Challenge

Last night, Oct. 29, Honduras' de facto regime finally agreed to allow Congress to vote to "restore full executive power prior to June 28". Conceding to international and national pressure, the Honduran coup appears to be facing its final days.

June 28 was the date when the Armed Forces kidnapped the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, and forcibly exiled him to Costa Rica. If the agreement brokered this week holds, the Honduran resistance movement will have turned the ugly precedent of a modern-day military coup d'etat into an example of the strength of nonviolent grassroots resistance.

The Victory

The points of the agreement are the same ones that the de facto regime has rejected since talks began in San Jose, Costa Rica. By last week, there was supposedly agreement on all points except the reinstatement of Zelaya.

Although the decision to restore Zelaya to power must receive a non-binding opinion from the Supreme Court and then be approved in Congress, it appears to be a done deal. Zelaya's team reportedly had the support of members from the UD Party, 20 members of the Liberal Party and more recently the support of the National Party to revoke the decree that was issued to justify his removal from office. That decree was originally accompanied by a forged letter of resignation that was immediately denounced.

President Zelaya expressed "satisfaction" at the agreement. Zelaya's negotiating team had agreed long before on the terms of the revised San Jose Accords, and negotiations were hung up on the coup's refusal to allow reinstatement of the president. The terms are:
  1. Creation of a government of national reconciliation that includes cabinet members from both sides
  2. Suspension of any possible vote on holding a Constitutional Assembly until after Jan. 27, when Zelaya's term ends
  3. A general amnesty for political crimes was rejected by both sides
  4. Command of the Armed Forces to be placed under the Electoral Tribunal during the month prior to the elections.
  5. Restitution of Zelaya to the presidency
  6. Creation of a Verification Commission to follow up on the accords, consisting of two members of the OAS, and one member each from the constitutional government and the coup regime
  7. Creation of a Truth Commission to begin work in 2010
  8. Revoke sanctions against Honduras following the accords
The leader of the de facto regime, Roberto Micheletti, issued a statement Thursday night saying, "I am pleased to announce that a few minutes ago I authorized my negotiating team to sign an agreement that marks the beginning of the end of the political situation in the country."

Micheletti noted that "accepting this proposal represents a significant concession on the part of this government." In the last round of talks, he had insisted that the Supreme Court decide the question of reinstatement. He added, "But we understand that our people demand us to turn the page of our history in these difficult moments. For that reason, I have decided to support this new proposal to achieve a final accord as soon as possible."

Few people know what magic words were uttered to change the opinion of one of the most stubborn dictators in recent history. But they probably came out of Tom Shannon’s mouth.

For months, both sides have noted that the U.S. government is the only entity with the power to break the impasse, due to Honduran military and economic dependency on the United States. In a press conference held in Tegucigalpa shortly before the agreement, Shannon explicitly confirmed that the sticking point was "political will" (the coup's unwillingness to accept Zelaya's reinstatement) and that the U.S. government was there to induce that political will.
"From our point of view, the deal’s on the table. This is not really a question of drafting or of shaping a paragraph. It’s really a question of political will. And that’s why it was so important, I think, for us to come to Honduras at this moment to make clear to all Hondurans that we believe the political will that is displayed and expressed by Honduras’s leaders should respect the democratic vocation of the Honduran people and the democratic aspirations of the Honduran people, and the desire of Honduras to return to a larger democratic community in the Americas... And that’s why we came, to underscore our interest in ensuring that the political will is there to do a deal."
Shannon mentioned legitimizing the elections and future access to development funding from international financial institutions as carrots (or sticks) in the negotiations:
"...An agreement within the national dialogue opens a large space for members of the international community to assist Honduras in this election process, to observe the elections, and to have a process that is peaceful and which produces leadership that is widely recognized throughout the hemisphere as legitimate. This will be important as a way of creating a pathway for Honduras to reintegrate itself into the Inter-American community, to not – and not just the OAS, but also the Inter-American Development Bank and its other institutions, and to access development funding through the international financial institutions."
It worked—at least in the formal stages, as the world now awaits implementation. The State Department was in a celebratory mood following the success of the high-level delegation consisting of Shannon, deputy Craig Kelly and the White House NSC representative for the Western Hemisphere, Dan Restrepo. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a special press conference from Islamabad announcing the "breakthrough in negotiations" in Honduras:
"I want to congratulate the people of Honduras as well as President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti for reaching an historic agreement. I also congratulate Costa Rican President Oscar Arias for the important role he has played in fashioning the San Jose process and the OAS for its role in facilitating the successful round of talks...

I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue.

This is a big step forward for the Inter-American system and its commitment to democracy as embodied in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. I'm very proud that I was part of the process, that the United States was instrumental in the process. But I'm mostly proud of the people of Honduras who have worked very hard to have this matter resolved peacefully."
Historians will chart the course of the little coup that couldn't.

But from this observer's chair, negotiation and dialogue played a minor role in the seeming resolution. In the end, the mobilization of Honduran society sent a clear message that "normal" government would not be possible and even more widespread insurrection loomed unless a return to democracy reopened institutional paths. International pressures and sanctions played a far greater role in cornering the coup than the technical terms of an accord that is vague, difficult to implement and contentious. In this context, the challenges ahead are enormous.

The Challenges

If it weren't for the extraordinary levels of commitment, participation and awareness generated by the democratic crisis over the past four months, the challenges Honduran society now faces could easily be considered impossible for any democracy to face. They include:

1) Restore constitutional order, within the presidency, the new cabinet and state institutions

This is a mammoth task. Zelaya cannot just step back into the Presidential Palace and assume that society has returned to its pre-coup state. Under the terms of the agreement, he must form a new cabinet with the participation of coup supporters. Anger runs high and this will be a controversial and delicate undertaking. He must review the damage done to national coffers under the coup regime. He must reestablish a relationship with the Armed Forces and the other branches of government. Many institutions have undergone purges of personnel under the coup and must be reestablished and work to regain legitimacy.

2) Organize elections for Nov. 29 or a later agreed-upon date

If the original date is not changed, that leaves less than a month before nationwide elections. Imagine a nation moving from the complete breakdown of its democratic system and institutions, to campaigns, to elections in less than thirty days. Anti-coup candidates had pulled out, other campaigns had been met consistently with protests, and now the mere logistics of organizing elections raises serious issues.

The timeline is critical to the process. Zelaya told AFP that the timeline is under discussion today and pointed out a concern that has been growing among international organizations and the Honduran public: if reinstatement and the return to democratic order do not happen immediately, the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 will be in jeopardy. His return, he noted, "must be well before the elections to be able to validate them."

In fact, despite the breakthrough, the legitimacy of the elections is already in jeopardy. If the reinstatement process drags out, as the negotiations did, Hondurans worry they could find themselves in the middle of an electoral farce. Even if all goes smoothly, nothing will be easy or exactly "normal". The United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the European Union had all announced they would not send elections observers to coup-sponsored elections, also citing the logistical difficulties of putting together effective teams on such short notice. Now the OAS has indicated it will try to do so but logistics continue to be a problem. The European Union indicated it required six weeks to put together such an elections mission and could no longer consider it.

Honduran law provides for a three-month campaign period prior to the vote so would need to be modified to accommodate a Nov. 29 election. Even an immediate end to serious human rights violations—many of which are essential to free and fair elections, such as freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom of assembly—will leave wounds and gaps. As the agreement was being hammered out, security forces attacked a peaceful march that had acquired all the permits required by the de facto government to legally demonstrate.

3) Continue moving toward a vote on holding a Constitutional Assembly

This demand is not going away, despite the agreement between Zelaya and Micheletti not to raise it until after Jan. 27. This point of the accords caused Juan Barahona, a leader of the National Front Against the Coup, to resign from the Zelaya negotiating team because it has become central to the movement not only to restore, but to expand Honduran democracy.

A Constitutional Assembly now appears more necessary than ever. It would serve to repair the contradictions in the current Constitution that coup-mongers exploited to rupture the democratic order, and channel the legitimate demands of organizations of peasants, indigenous peoples, urban poor, women, youth and others. Since the awakening of popular sectors in resistance to the coup, it is not possible to conceive of a free and stable society without proceeding with a Constitutional Assembly.

Rush to Define Positions

Zelaya was quick to point out that obstacles remain. "This is a first step to bringing about my reinstatement that will have to go through several stages. I'm moderately optimistic," he told AFP news service from the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been holed up since Sept. 21.

The reinstatement of President Zelaya will likely be voted on soon. Emails from the Honduran Internet groups that have formed a virtual community to debate and decry the military coup in their country, now demonstrate a range of feelings, from jubilation to open skepticism. Elections pose a huge challenge to anti-coup forces since a wide range of opinions play out within the diverse National Front Against the Coup.

Hondurans now move into the next phase of a long struggle to rebuild and broaden democracy. The challenge includes holding free and fair elections in the short term, but also includes critical issues of expanding democratic rights and participation beyond the elections and the system of representation. They must find ways to heal deep wounds and confront an economic and political crisis that is far from over.

If the coup finally falls and Zelaya is restored to power, Honduran society and the international community will score an historic victory. It must be remembered though, that the victory is a defensive one—it marks the successful rollback of anti-democratic forces in a small but determined nation.

Those forces will not desist—in Honduras or in other places where democracy is vulnerable and nefarious interests are strong. Until democracy in the fullest sense—participatory and dedicated to nonviolence—gains ground, the world could be stuck in long battles to defend against attacks instead of moving forward toward societies where this kind of offensive against the rule of law can no longer occur.

Oct 27, 2009

Congress Members Urge Obama to "Break the Silence" on Honduran Rights Violations

Members of Congress wrote a strongly worded letter to President Obama, urging him to denounce human rights violations under the Honduran coup, saying it was time to "break the silence." The letter also seeks to break the impasse that has thrust the Central American nation into daily rounds of violence and violations under the military coup.

The letter (full text below) applauds the Obama administration's condemnation of the coup but notes that over the past months it has remained silent in the face of human rights abuses, including deaths at the hands of security forces. It also notes the special role and responsibility of US influence in ending the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti.

"Though we commend the administration for having strongly stated their support for the restoration of democracy in Honduras, we are concerned that neither you nor the Secretary of State has denounced these serious human rights abuses in a country where US influence could be decisive."

According to Capitol Hill sources, the letter—signed by eight Congressional members and leaders—was drafted and issued rapidly to respond to events in Honduras that could reach a defining moment this week. Today State Department envoy Tom Shannon will be in Tegucigalpa to seek a resolution to the stand-off, caused by the coup's refusal to allow the reinstatement of President Zelaya. A new delegation from the Organization of American States will also converge on the beleaguered nation in a last-ditch attempt at new negotiations.

The letter to Obama seeks to infuse the seemingly endless negotiations with the urgency they deserve. It says:

"It is now more urgent than ever to break this silence. It is critical that your Administration immediately, clearly and unequivocally reject and denounce the repression by this illegitimate regime. We can say sincerely and without hyperbole that this action on your part will save lives."

With this letter, the Congressional group aims to break the inexplicable silence of the State Department on human rights and to break the political impasse.

The timeline on negotiations in Honduras has become a lit fuse.

President Zelaya remains in the Brazilian Embassy, surrounded by military units and threatened with immediate arrest by coup security forces. Micheletti is betting that Nov. 29 elections—even without international recognition, and without the participation of large parts of the Honduran population—will still prove to be the whitewash of legitimacy the coup leaders so desperately seek to maintain and consolidate power.

The delaying tactics of the de facto regime—luring Zelaya and the international community into mediation and talks that it never intended to accede to—have pushed the crisis into four months, with just over a month to election day. Many groups believe it will now be impossible under any circumstances to organize free and fair elections.

The letter addresses the elections in no uncertain terms:

"It is time for the administration to join this growing hemispheric and international consensus and unambiguously state that elections organized by an undemocratic government that has denied critics of the regime the right to free speech, assembly, and movement, cannot and will not be considered free and fair by our government."

As rumors of an imminent breakthrough flood the Internet, frustration has grown in Honduras and around the world. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Thousands of lives have been sacrificed in Latin America to put the days of military coups behind us, and although we know that history is not a linear progression toward civilization many of us believed that the blatant subversion of democracy through a military coup would no longer be acceptable. The international community responded with a unified and firm condemnation of the coup. Yet somehow a handful of wealthy Hondurans, backed up by a small military force, have felt they had the power to confront their own people and the world.

This letter calls on the Obama administration to state publicly and unequivocally that it does not overtly or covertly support the coup, that it will stand up for human rights, and that it will not support elections under an illegal government. The Congress members' strong words find echo among other members of Congress and growing organized groups of constituents, including US human rights groups, faith-based organizations, and common citizens who shudder at the prospect of a return to a hemisphere where dictators are allowed to walk among democracies.

The State Department stated it would not support coup-run elections, but leaks indicate that at least some strong currents within the Clinton team would indeed find even seriously flawed elections to be a convenient out. This ambivalence, left unclarified by State spokespersons, fuels suspicions in Latin America that powerful Washington interests would prefer the coup to a left-leaning democracy in Honduras, and are not afraid to support subversion of democratic processes to do it.

It is time for the Obama administration to draw together with a single voice for human rights and democracy and end the Honduran stand-off by developing a firm, coherent and non-violent strategy to assure the immediate reinstatement of President Zelaya and constitutional order.

See the full text of the letter from Congress members to President Obama below.

Dear President Obama, October 27, 2009

We are writing to you regarding an urgent situation where lives are at stake and action on your part may prevent further tragedy.

Since the return to Honduras of President Manuel Zelaya, the de facto regime has taken further repressive measures, in addition to the previous violations of basic rights and civil liberties which have been recognized and denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and all of the key Honduran human rights NGOs, among others.

According to reports from the media and rights organizations, the coup regime violently dispersed a gathering of Hondurans in front of the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa with tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets, resulting in numerous casualties, including several reported fatalities.

While the siege of the Embassy is a serious violation of the Vienna Convention, more disturbing is the broad assault against the Honduran people unleashed by the coup regime.

On September 22 the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, stated that "given the reports we have received, and the poor track record of the security forces since the coup, we fear that conditions could deteriorate drastically in the coming days." That same day, the Americas Director for the London-based rights organization Amnesty International, Susan Lee, has stated that "the attacks against human rights defenders, suspension of news outlets, beating of demonstrators by the police and ever-increasing reports of mass arrests indicate that human rights and the rule of law in Honduras are at grave risk."

The international community has also spoken out regarding the worsening human rights situation in Honduras. On September 22nd, Mexico released a statement in the name of the 23-member Rio Group demanding that the de facto government stop carrying out "acts of repression and violation of human rights of all Hondurans." The following day, the President of the European Union seconded the Rio Group statement.

Mr. President, we were glad to hear State Department spokesman Ian Kelly on September 22 reaffirm the position of the Administration that Manuel Zelaya is the "democratically elected and constitutional leader of Honduras." But unfortunately, the mixed messages that have characterized the Administration's response persist.

The head of the US delegation to the Organization of American States Lewis Anselem represented our nation in that body by saying "Zelaya's return to Honduras is irresponsible and foolish and it doesn't serve the interest of the people nor those who seek the restoration of democratic order in Honduras [...] Everything will be better if all parties refrain from provoking and inciting violence." Not content to place equal blame on both the victims of the violence and the perpetrators, he then chose to personally insult Mr. Zelaya, saying "The president should stop acting as though he were starring in an old Woody Allen movie." State Department spokespersons have declined numerous opportunities to distance your administration from Anselem's words.

We note that, unlike the coup leaders, President Zelaya has indicated his openness to dialogue and has accepted the San Jose agreements that emerged from the US-backed mediation process led by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica.

The suspension of rights announced by the junta on September 27 in Executive Decree PCM-M-016-2009 was used to shut down independent media outlets like Radio Globo and Canal 36, which have only recently been able to resume broadcasting.

The decree was denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as "a violation of international law," containing "provisions [that] arbitrarily restrict fundamental human rights."

ED PCM-M-016-2009 remained legally in effect and was enforced by the junta until Monday, October 19, when the rescission was finally published, only to be replaced by a decree from the junta's Security Minister in which all planned public gatherings, rallies or marches, must be made known to the national police 24 hours in advance, including names of event organizers, start and end times, and any march routes.

Another, similar decree allowing authorities to suspend any media considered to be "fomenting social anarchy", had already been issued on October 7. According to the organization Reporters Without Borders, the October 7 decree is "targeted at those that oppose the coup" and "constitutes a real threat to pluralism, an incentive to self-censorship and an additional mechanism for polarizing the media and public opinion."

Free and fair elections cannot take place under these conditions.

Though we commend the administration for having strongly stated their support for the restoration of democracy in Honduras, we are concerned that neither you nor the Secretary of State has denounced these serious human rights abuses in a country where US influence could be decisive.

It is now more urgent than ever to break this silence. It is critical that your Administration immediately, clearly and unequivocally reject and denounce the repression by this illegitimate regime. We can say sincerely and without hyperbole that this action on your part will save lives.

Furthermore, the vast majority of our neighbors in the region, including Brazil and Mexico, have clearly indicated that they will not recognize the results of elections held under the coup regime.

On September 29, Costa Rican President and US-appointed mediator Oscar Arias noted the regime's continued rejection of the San Jose accords, and warned that Honduran elections cannot be recognized by the international community without a restoration of constitutional order. Arias said, "the cost of failure of leaving a coup d'etat unpunished is setting up a bad precedent for the region [...] You could have remembrances of a bad Latin American past, insisting on elections under these circumstances and overlooking items in the San Jose Accord."

It is time for the administration to join this growing hemispheric and international consensus and unambiguously state that elections organized by an undemocratic government that has denied critics of the regime the right to free speech, assembly, and movement, cannot and will not be considered free and fair by our government.

We feel it is imperative that the administration step up its efforts to bring about a prompt restoration of democracy in Honduras, together with other regional leaders.

We eagerly await your reply.


Raúl M. Grijalva, José E. Serrano,
Fortney "Pete" Stark, Danny K. Davis,
Janice D. Schakowsky, Maxine Waters,
Barbara Lee, John Conyers,
Luis V. Gutierrez, Jesse L. Jackson,
Chaka Fattah, James P. Moran,
Michael M. Honda, Sam Farr,
James L. Oberstar, Eddie Bernice Johnson

Oct 15, 2009

Honduran Accords Hung Up on Zelaya's Reinstatement

Talks between representatives of the coup regime and the constitutional government of President Manuel Zelaya reached consensus on eight of nine points yesterday. But the missing point is the same one that that has has held up any agreement to end the stand-off since Day One of the coup d'état over three months ago.

Coup leaders once again balked at the reinstatement of Zelaya in the presidency, which the resistance and many neighboring nations have demanded be "unconditional." According to declarations from the leader of the de facto regime, Roberto Micheletti, the current reason for refusing reinstatement hinges on whether it will be the Congress or the Supreme Court that decides. The original proposal was for Congress to revoke its destitution decree, but Micheletti stated that restitution is a legal matter, "It would definitely be the Supreme Court that would have to make this decision."

Neither body has much credibility within the resistance movement. Moves that range from Zelaya's destitution—and subsequent kidnapping—to falsifying a resignation letter with a forged signature and implicitly supporting violent repression have eroded trust in the institutions within the polarized society. The many legal arguments posed to delay an agreement to reinstate Zelaya have caused skepticism and the belief that the coup is merely making time before the upcoming Nov. 29 elections. All nations, with the exception of Panama, have stated they will not accept the results of elections carried out by an illegal coup regime.

Today's talks will concentrate on the sole point of the president's reinstatement. It will be a make-it-or-break-it session, since Zelaya has placed a deadline of Oct. 15or his restitution.

OAS Secretary General Jose Insulza said he was optimistic yesterday that "a Honduran solution to the Honduran crisis" is imminent. He enunciated the points of agreement, based on review of the San Jose Accords as follows:

  1. The creation of a government of national reconciliation that includes cabinet members from both sides was agreed upon.
  2. Both sides agreed that they would not promote a vote on holding a Constitutional Assembly before Jan. 27, when Zelaya's term ends.
  3. A general amnesty for political crimes was rejected by both sides.
  4. The original proposal to move up the elections was discarded by both sides as obsolete.
  5. The proposal to place the command of the Armed Forces under the Electoral Tribunal during the month prior to the elections was agreed on.
  6. There is no agreement yet on restitution of Zelaya.
  7. It was agreed to create a Verification Commission to follow up on the accords, consisting of two members of the OAS, and one member each from the constitutional government and the coup regime.
  8. The creation of a Truth Commission to begin work in 2010 was agreed on.
  9. Revoking sanctions against Honduras following the accords was agreed on.

The point on the Constitutional Assembly, a central demand of the organizations in the National Front against the Coup, led to the resignation of resistance leader, Juan Barahona, from the Zelaya negotiating team. Barahona said he would not be part of an agreement that set aside this crucial demand.

Although Zelaya negotiator Victor Meza stated that there was agreement on restitution, Micheletti stated publicly that in fact he would not agree to the terms presently on the table. An official declaration from the Presidential Palace yesterday stated, "There is no final accord on this point. Press reports indicating the contrary are false. We ask the national and international press to be cautious in their reports on the negotiation since they have a responsibility not to hinder the dialogue."

Some leaders of the Front against the Coup were pessimistic. EFE cited farm leader Filadelfo Martinez saying that the movement will not be content with only restoring Zelaya to the presidency and wants "a national accord that includes the possibility of reforming not only the Constitution, but also the legal framework that gives campesinos access to the land and children access to quality education" to reduce the extreme social inequality that exists in the country.

A Wednesday public declaration from the Front reveals the deep class divisions that have been exposed in the conflict and the determination of grassroots organizations to fight for the Constitutional Assembly. "We once again declare our commitment to installing a National Constitutional Assembly, democratic and inclusive, that has as its principal objective to create a new foundation for Honduras to overcome the oppression and exploitation of the popular sectors by an elite minority that unjustly concentrates wealth created by the workers."

Today's negotiations will be difficult, to say the least. And while a peaceful return to the rule of law is the immediate goal, it will not resolve the deeper problems that have divided society and mobilized thousands of Hondurans. This stage is critical, but many challenges remain even if the two sides manage to reach agreement.

Comunicado No. 27

El Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Golpe de Estado al pueblo hondureño y la comunidad internacional comunica:

El avance del diálogo entablado entre los representantes del gobierno legítimo de Manuel Zelaya y los representantes del régimen de facto, está siendo utilizado por los medios de comunicación de la oligarquía con la intención de desinformar y crear confusión en la población hondureña y en la opinión pública internacional. Para esclarecer las dudas y dejar sentada la posición del Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Golpe de Estado, nos manifestamos en los siguientes términos:

  1. Reiteramos nuestra disposición y actitud diligente en la búsqueda de una salida pacífica y dialogada a la crisis social y política generada a partir del golpe de estado del 28 de junio. Creemos que una solución puede lograrse si se vuelve al orden institucional, se respeta el derecho soberano del pueblo a decidir el tipo sociedad que quiere construir, se hace justicia con los violadores de derechos humanos y se libera a las y los presos políticos.
  2. Manifestamos que la presencia del compañero Juan Barahona, que acompaña a la comisión del gobierno legítimo como representante de la Resistencia, patentiza nuestro respaldo a la posición del presidente Zelaya de que cualquier acuerdo al que se llegue debe considerar la restitución del gobierno constitucional en el poder, teniendo como fecha límite el 15 de octubre de 2009. En caso de que esta condición no se cumpla se desconocerá el proceso eleccionario previsto para el 29 de noviembre de 2009.
  3. Declaramos de nueva cuenta nuestro compromiso irrenunciable con la instalación de una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente democrática e incluyente, que tenga como objetivo principal la refundación de Honduras para superar la opresión y explotación de los sectores populares por parte de una élite minoritaria que concentra injustamente la riqueza que generan los trabajadores y trabajadoras.
  4. Reiteramos que las diversas fuerzas sociales y políticas que integran el Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Golpe de Estado se encuentran cohesionadas alrededor de los puntos expuestos anteriormente.
  5. Denunciamos que mientras la dictadura intenta mostrarse dialogante y presentar a la prensa internacional un panorama de tranquilidad y paz, persiste la represión salvaje en contra de la población y se continúan negando los derechos de movilización, manifestación, reunión y libertad de expresión.
  6. Exigimos la derogación inmediata del decreto PCM-M-016-2009 y de otras medidas jurídicas y de hecho, violatorias de los derechos humanos, mediante los cuales se ejecutan injustos procesos judiciales contra presos políticos, se persigue a militantes de la Resistencia, se reprimen manifestaciones pacíficas y permanecen cerrados Radio Globo y Canal 36.
  7. Llamamos a la población a continuar alerta y en movilización permanente para defender sus derechos.


Tegucigalpa, M.D.C. 14 de octubre de 2009

Oct 9, 2009

Honduras De Facto Regime Opens Fire in Poor Neighborhoods: Youth and union members targeted by coup violence

Dick Emanuelsson and Mirian Huezo Emanuelsson

The Honduran people have set an example for people throughout Latin America through three months of steady resistance to the coup in their country. But there are powerful groups within Honduras and abroad organizing to neutralize this unprecedented force and block the resistance from growing in strength and numbers. These groups above all seek to prevent the nation from carrying out a Constitutional Assembly to modify the outdated constitution. Along with the reinstatement of the elected President Manuel Zelaya, this demand is central to the popular movement against the coup as a necessary tool to bring the country and its people out of poverty.

In this Special Report, Tegucigalpa reporter Dick Emanuelsson and photographer Mirian Huezo Emanuelsson chronicle the terror and repression unleashed by the coup to maintain power. Despite promises to lift the executive decree that imposed a state of siege, the violence continues.

These are firsthand accounts from the victims of the strategy of force being employed by the coup. All were wounded by security forces since the return of Zelaya on Sept. 21. This strategy has only intensified, despite talk of an official dialogue, largely frustrated during the recent visit of the Organization of American States (OAS). Even as the OAS ministers and other dignitaries were meeting on Oct. 7 in Tegucigalpa to promote dialogue, the coup and armed forces again attacked peaceful demonstrators in the streets.

* * *

The pain is intense and tears stream down the sun-browned face. Mauricio Maldonado, 18, was shot by the police when he went out to the corner store to buy a bag of churros. It was 8:30 at night on Sept. 24 and the curfew had been imposed since 5 in the afternoon the previous day in the combative neighborhood of La Cañada, in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

“A white Mazda drove into the neighborhood and stopped for a little while in the dark. One of the men said ‘shut off the lights,’ they backed up a little and started to shoot. I fell on the ground, they got me in the stomach,” Maldonaldo tells us.

He says that the people of La Cañada are not happy with the June 28 coup d’etat. La Cañada is a poor neighborhood of mostly teachers. The teachers have been at the forefront of the Honduran uprising against the coup due to the union leadership which from the first day began marching and demonstrating in the streets and striking for a return to democracy. In the last weeks, they have been attacked by security forces and many have been arrested.

The violence against people living in extreme poverty in urban neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and other Honduran cities began the day after Zelaya’s return to Honduras. It was, and is, horrible. Mauricio lies in the Hospital Escuela, the public hospital for the poor. He is a flesh-and-blood example of the repression that has moved on to using bullets and beatings to control rebellious sectors of the population.

It’s a Crime to Be Young in Honduras

He removes the bed sheet that covers him and shows where the bullet entered at his waist, crossed his stomach and came out the other side of his waist. En route, the shot damaged part of his spine. The family had to pay for a magnetic resonance image of the spinal column that cost 6,000 lempiras (USD$350) to find out if the spine was damaged. Mauricio´s mother Marbeli Pastrana is the head of the household; she makes half of the minimum wage at her job as a domestic servant.

“The neighbors helped us out and I managed to lower the cost to 4,200 lempiras,” Pastrana explains. She is crying from the sadness of seeing Mauricio seriously wounded and is concerned about the consequences of the Sept. 24 assault on her son.

“I was inside when I heard the shooting. I ran out barefoot and I saw all the kids running except him”, she says, as the knot in her throat grows. “And then I saw him on the ground.”

But your son was lucky, he survived, we tell her to keep her spirits up.

“Thank God, yes! But it was horrible having to go through this—they shot more than thirty times.”

How is the situation now among the people of La Cañada?

“They are very supportive of him. They all got together some money and I’m thankful that they helped me,” answers the mother of four children, the youngest only 13. “We trust God that it will all work out.”

At 4 pm on Monday, Sept. 21—just hours after Zelaya arrived in Tegucigalpa, the de facto regime imposed a round-the-clock curfew. The Honduran people were held hostage in their own homes for more than 38 hours. The curfew was lifted for seven hours on Wednesday Sept. 23 at 10 A.M. During these hours, tens of thousands of residents in the neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula rebelled until they were able to take control of several police posts.

It is typical for the poor of these neighborhoods to buy their daily groceries at local corner stores. That’s why there was so much rage against the decision to impose a curfew. It not only violates the constitution but it also leaves people stranded in their houses without food. It was received with a fury rarely seen before in Honduras. The decision reinforced the rejection of the coup leaders and enhanced the political consciousness of the people.

We entered another room in the hospital where we found Junior Adalberto Rodríguez, 18 year of age, a young man among the thousands that go out to demonstrate daily in the resistance marches. The youth of the popular neighborhoods often prove difficult for the resistance leadership to control because their rebellion draws not only on their opposition to the coup but also on a deep resentment against a society that represses youth instead of offering education and employment opportunities.

He is sitting up in bed staring at the wall. He and six friends were shot at on Sept. 22 during the curfew.

His mother, Carmen, says, “He is part of the resistance and was in the street in front of the house when a man dressed in black appeared and shot him. The bullet went in the right side of his jaw and exited the other side. It broke his jaw and his teeth.”

“As a mother, I felt really bad. You can’t even go out now for fear of being in the streets because anything can happen. That night everyone was in an uproar there…”

The youth themselves say that to be young in Honduras is considered a crime today. The soldiers and police see the young people as a subversive group and would rather strike out against them to neutralize their rebellion than see them organize in the resistance.

“These are real bullets”

Mario Valladares, 47, of the neighborhood of Israel Sur, is another victim we came across in a room on the fourth floor of the Hospital Escuela. The hospital is full of victims of a regime that has been condemned by the entire world but that continues to victimize the Honduran people.

“I went out at 10:00 in the morning when two patrol cars appeared. I don´t deny that I am part of the Resistance. Because I’m going to defend my people. With things the way they are now, a lot of times people bow their heads but the people have awakened. And I say with pride that I will die for my people if necessary,” Valladares tells us.

“I was forming a resistance group when the patrols arrived and one of them took out a pistol. ‘Why are you drawing your gun, what’s going on? We’re Hondurans, we’re being peaceful, we don´t have arms, sticks or rocks,’ we told them.

“‘There’s no problem’, they answered us. But when they left, some boys started yelling slogans and they didn’t like that. When I saw that one of them aimed a FAL rifle, I threw myself on the ground but it was too late, I was already shot with the other six friends. They fired indiscriminately at the crowd. The bullet went in here,” he shows us his left thigh, “and came out the other side. I was really lucky because it only touched flesh and not bone or muscle.”

They were in the streets during the time the curfew had been lifted. In spite of this, the men were savagely attacked with high-caliber 7.62 mm. firearms.

“Do you know why they lifted the curfew? To kill the people! Because the order is simply to shoot people and the order comes from above. I know because I was in the army. A lower-level soldier doesn´t shoot like that without an order from above. They say they are shooting rubber bullets, that’s a lie. These are real bullets. They were shooting us from 25 meters away, that’s atrocious! They don’t think, they just think about killing.”

The same morning and hour that Mario Valladares and his six friends were shot, Jairo Sanchez was shot by uniformed officers under General Romeo Vázquez. The security agents of the National Department of Criminal Investigation (DICN) did not say a single word, they just opened fire on the crowd that protested against the dictatorship in the neighborhood of San Francisco.

“Unfortunately, they shot our companion in the left cheek, leaving him badly wounded,” says Abel Morales, Secretary of Acts in the National Union of Workers of the Professional Training Institute (SITRAINFOP) that has nearly a thousand members in Honduras.

As we were interviewing him in the beautiful park of the Institute, union members were holding a Marathon Event to raise funds for Sánchez’s operations and treatment, which costs half a million lempiras or approximately USD$27,000. The union leader is an inch away from death.

“Thank God, he’s conscious. Due to the operation they performed that same Wednesday that the attack took place, he can’t speak. He can only make hand gestures, and write notes to communicate with us,” says Morales.

But the curfew was lifted at the hour when they were attacked?

“Yes, at that moment the curfew was suspended. The Resistance called out to us and we are responding to that call.”

Sánchez was taken immediately to Hospital Escuela. But after three months of the coup there insufficient equipment at the hospital and due to the severity of his wound, he was transferred to the Medical Center, an elegant, private hospital with the best doctors, where he was immediately attended to.

“They took out projectile fragments as well as the remaining fragments of the bone that had broken. They repaired some of his arteries and veins that the shot had damaged,” related Morales.

“Right now, the doctors have decided not to remove the bullet itself because it is lodged really close to the aorta. (Sanchez) could have a severe hemorrhage and die.”

What was the reaction of union members to the attempted assassination?

“They called all of the union managers, investigating, because we have a very united base in this union. In cases like this one, the people react in a very orderly way.”

While we are talking you can hear the ruckus of the Great Marathon that the union has organized to raise funds to cover Sánchez’ medical costs.

“We are holding this Marathon in all of the local sections all over the country to support our fellow union member. We really appreciate all the support we’ve received from unions all over the world.”

Morales explains, “Conditions in Honduras re tough and we the union leaders are very exposed in this situation. At 6 in the afternoon on Wednesday, a contingent of four patrol units with a total of 60 officers and 60 patrolmen entered the neighborhood where I live. They come into many neighborhoods, not just mine, shooting, raiding homes, breaking down doors, taking a few members of the resistance.

“Thank God they haven’t come to my house. But we have received news that they are watching us, above all the union leaders who are at the forefront of the resistance that is known throughout the world as a peaceful movement. But the police and the army come and they repress us.”

“The situation is becoming difficult and international organizations must get involved in the issue.”

A Death List for Popular Leaders?

Speaking of the repression against union leaders, last year three DCIN agents were detained by members of the Autonomous University of Honduras Union (Sintraunah) when the agents were beginning to act strangely. They found a list of 130 names, photographs of the popular leaders, union headquarters, telephone numbers, etc. Was SITRAINFOP on that list?

“The members of Sintraunah, a very beligerant union, were able to detain three agents from the DCIN and from them they were able to attain a list with 130 names of union members and popular leaders. Among them was the SITRAINFOP leadership.”

A New Operation for Sánchez

We arrive at the Medical Center where the national president of Honduran polytechnic professors, Jairo Sánchez, is awaiting a second operation due to a high fever that has persisted over the last few days and has not broken. We find him conscious but unable to speak. His look is firm and fixed look and seems to speak to us with the words of the song that has become a slogan of the resistance to the coup:

“They are afraid of us because we have no fear!”

More Information:

Audio of interviews with the victims:

Mauricio Maldonado, 18, was shot in the stomach by the police when he went out to the corner store during the curfew in Tegucigalpa on Sept 24, 2009.
Listen to the interview here: http://www.box.net/shared/trfasb10n6

Junior Adalberto Rodríguez, 18, active in the resistance, was shot in the right side of his jaw. His jaw and teeth were broken.
Listen to the interview here: http://www.box.net/shared/8inbffaqsl

Mario Valladares, 47, active in the resistance, was shot by the police in the thigh.
Listen to the interview here: http://www.box.net/shared/20viy5ckdr

Interview with Abel Morales, Secretary of Acts for SITRAINFOP, on the attempt of the DNIC to assassinate Jairo Sánchez, president of SITRAINFOP on Sept. 23, 2009.
Listen to the interview here: http://www.box.net/shared/bhqbfxzqhp

Oct 1, 2009

Washington Plays Both Sides on Honduran Coup

The good news is that Washington has finally begun to take stronger actions on Honduras.

The bad news is that the actions completely contradict each other, resulting in ambiguity, paralysis and infighting as the Honduran crisis explodes.

For many months, the news out of the U.S. capital focused on contradictions between multilateral resolutions to condemn the coup, the scarce but firm remarks from President Obama and fudging from the State Department. At the same time, the Pentagon kept true to its image of the strong-but-silent-type, not responding to confirm or deny accusations that its base at Palmerola played a role in the abduction of President Zelaya, that it invited the Armed Forces of the coup regime to participate in PANAMAX exercises last month, or that its military presence in Honduras was tacitly supporting the coup.

All these contradictions still exist. But now members of the U.S. Congress and private sector have made coherent policy even more unlikely by openly working to oppose the U.S. official position.

Congress Faces Off

A small minority group in the U.S. House and Senate is determined to support the Honduran coup regime despite official government policy to oppose it. In a showdown that reveals the depths of the division in Congress, conservative Senator Jim DeMint announced a plan to travel to Honduras with three fellow Republicans (U.S. Representatives Aaron Schock R-Illinois, Peter Roskam R-Illinois and Doug Lamborn R-Colorado). DeMint has been outspoken in saying that the military coup in Honduras is legal and constitutional, outright rejecting the UN and Organization of American States resolutions that the Obama administration voted to approve.

Head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry, refused to approve Committee financing for the trip. DeMint credits Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell for getting around Kerry's refusal to fund his coup-tour by obtaining a plane from the Defense Department. He does not define this as a "fact-finding trip" as much of the press has falsely re-dubbed it. Instead, he explicitly announces the political bias of his publicly funded Honduran jaunt, writing on Twitter, "Leading delegation to Honduras tomorrow to support Nov. 29 elections. Hondurans should be able to choose their own future.”

The U.S. government, along with other governments in the hemisphere, has announced that it will not recognize the Nov. 29 Honduran elections if they are held under the military coup.

DeMint lashed out at Kerry's move, calling it "bullying." Kerry shot back that DeMint was blocking development of government Latin America policy.

But Kerry's office wasn't referring to DeMint's anti-democratic stance on Honduras. He was referring to the DeMint-led veto on key Obama diplomatic appointments to Latin America. Under Senate law, if a single senator objects to a nomination, the Senate must muster 60 votes to overcome the objection. The Democrats currently have only 59, counting independents. This means that DeMint can apparaently indefinitely block Obama's appointments to major posts in Latin American diplomacy. The region is the only one that still does not have a new under-secretary of state to coordinate policy, since the nominee, Arturo Valenzuela, has not been approved.

The second Congressional practitioner of renegade diplomacy is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Florida Congresswoman is planning to visit Honduras in the coming weeks. It's pretty clear why Ros-Lehtinen goes out on a limb to defend the Honduran coup. Of Cuban descent, she's virulently anti-Castro and jumps on any opportunity to attack center-left governments in Latin America, particularly ones with ties to Venezuela.

Ros-Lehtinen describes her presumably public-funded trip with a bias that's inexplicit about its opposition to the official policy of the country she ostensibly represents: "I am traveling to Honduras to conduct my own assessment of the situation on the ground and the state of U.S. interests in light of the U.S.'s misguided Zelaya-focused approach," she stated.

The Congresswoman plans to meet with Micheletti, business leaders, the US Embassy and other members of the coup. She had a meeting scheduled with Honduran businessman Alfredo Facusse in Miami last week but Facusse, a supporter of the coup, had his visa revoked under the U.S. State Department measure to sanction the coup.

This would be but a last gasp of the fading ultra-conservative Florida Cuban group were it not for the fact that Ros-Lehtinen has power in Congress. Due to her seniority—she has been a member since 1989—she is currently a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Fervent clashes in the Capitol are common on both domestic and foreign policy, but it is rare that Senators and Congressmen approach foreign governments (or coups) directly to negotiate positions contrary to their governments. A TPM blog notes that this is the new GOP strategy, not only in Honduras but in at least three other situations as well.

Alarmed at the counter-diplomacy efforts undertaken by the rightwing fringe, other members of Congress rallied today to express support for the administration's call for a return to constitutional order in the Central American nation. An Oct. 2 letter to the Honduran Congress by Congressional representatives Bill Delahunt, Jim McGovern, Janice Schakowsy, Sam Farr, Gregory Weeks and Xavier Becerra begins:

"We understand that you have received visitors from our Congress who represent the minority party, the Republican Party, who have expressed views that differ markedly from those of President Obama's administration and the Democratic majority party in the US Congress..."

It goes on to spell out the democratic position:

"We believe that the coup against President Zelaya was unconstitutional; the absence of a legitimate president, the violations of human rights and the curtailment of civil liberties are unacceptable; and these conditions make the holding of free and fair elections next November in Honduras impossible."

The letter follows similar letters from the office of Rep. Raul Grijalva.

It doesn't matter much whether Ros-Lehtinen and DeMint go to Honduras for the photo op with Micheletti or not. It has happened before (rightwing Congressman Connie Mack was there with a delegation on July 25 ) and had very little impact, except to delight the coup-controlled media for a day or so.

But it really does matter who pays. The U.S. taxpayer—whether through the Defense or State Departments or through Congressional funds—should not have to pay for congressional junkets that aim to undermine official government policies. The U.S. government has signed both the OAS and UN resolutions deeming the coup a coup and calling for non-recognition of the Micheletti regime.

PR Firms Reap Mega-Contracts to Undermine U.S. Government Policy

Last Monday, we reported that the Honduran coup had contracted with the Washington PR firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates worth over $290,000. The contract was filed with the Justice Department on Sept. 18 and is available on-line. As noted in the Sept. 28 blog, this is the first time that the de facto regime has contracted directly, in this case signed by Rafael Pineda Ponce, head of Institutional Strengthening for the coup regime. It includes monitoring the press and coordinating responses to negative publicity.

The contract reads, "The registrant will engage in the following activities on behalf of the foreign principal: providing advice and planning on strategic public relations activities, designing and managing said activities through the use of media outreach, policymaker and third party contact and events and public dissemination of information to government officials, the staff of government officials, news media and non-government groups. The purpose of these activities is to advance the level of communication, awareness and media policymaker attention about the political situation in Honduras."

Honduran organizations have asked the State Department to investigate the legality of the contract. For one thing, the coup regime is spending Honduran public funds to sustain itself as an anti-constitutional government.

The Justice Department should also be concerned about violations of foreign lobbying regulations. It's one thing to lobby U.S. policymakers for a foreign government but quite another to lobby for a foreign military coup. By all logic, this should be prohibited under the lobbying rules.

This is another example of how the State Department's refusal to do its job by designating the Honduran coup a coup gives Micheletti wiggle room he never should have been given.

The ambivalence and contradictions coming out of Washington these days only serve to prolong and deepen the conflict in Honduras. It will never be possible to convince certain rightwing actors to accept a return to democracy in the country, not to talk slick PR firms into acting along any criteria but money coming in. The only solution is to diligently apply the law—something Hondurans no longer have the option of doing—to resolve this crisis. The coup must be isolated and sanctioned until its leaders realize that hijacking democracy is not acceptable practice.