The MexicoBlog of the Americas Program, a fiscally sponsored program of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), is written by Laura Carlsen. I monitor and analyze international press on Mexico, with a focus on security, immigration, human rights and social movements for peace and justice, from a feminist perspective. And sometimes I simply muse.
Nov 30, 2009
Honduran "Electoral Observers" Launch Verbal Attack on Americas Program Director
I have been here in Honduras watching the development of the elections since Friday, Nov. 27. Last night I gave a television interview to an international agency. A group of credentialed elections observers gathered around and immediately began yelling insults at me when we finished the filming. I am attaching a letter to the U.S. Embassy that I sent last night. These are the highlights of what occurred:
Supposedly impartial observers call for me to be thrown out of the country for criticizing the elections
Over fifty people surround me and order me to "tell the truth about our democracy" (which I readily agree to do) and accuse me of being a "liar" and "enemy of Hondurans"
Tribunal Court security escorts me out of angry crowd
Honduran press reports that I am Venezuelan and an agent of Chavez
The letter follows. I am now involved in submitting a human rights complaint and trying to correct all the rumors and errors that are circulating in the press. I will be writing on the elections themselves very soon.
Dear Embassy personnel,
I was asked to appear as an analyst on Al Jazeera television, out of Washington, on a live block at 8:00 p.m. We were filming in the middle of the hotel Marriott, second floor hallway, where the Electoral Tribunal and the media were announcing preliminary results. There were many people around and although I didn't notice at the time, apparently many gathered to watch the filming.
When asked by the interviewer my opinion of the elections, I stated that I did not think that the elections could resolve the deep political crisis in the country, that many people were not satisfied with the process since democratic order was not restored prior to the elections and that many countries were not recognizing the process. It was only about a 4-5 minute interview. As soon as we were off the air, the people gathered around pressed in on me and began to scream "liar," "why do you lie to the world," "here we have democracy," etc. A national observer, and many other people were yelling that I had given false information (I actually gave no information on elections results since there are no reliable data out yet and said that we would be seeing a war of statistics where one side will proclaim high abstention and the other high turn-out, and indeed that is already happening). They began to literally scream in my face, especially an "international observer" who said he was from the Chamber of Commerce. The press continued to ask questions, in part to shield me from the hostility of the crowd. I was willing to engage in conversation despite the aggressiveness and ugliness of the mob at first.
Then the crowd, led by national observers began to chant "democracy" to which I replied that there, we were in complete agreement. They pressed in more and more, screaming louder and louder at me, everyone chanting "fuera del país" "que se vaya" "sácala de aquí" etc. I said I felt in danger and wanted to leave. Some people including a man who apparently was from the security of the Electoral Tribunal escorted me downstairs and we managed to get out of the crowd, which followed me to the elevators, still screaming. When I got downstairs, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that people on the ground floor who had not even taken part in the incident upstairs knew me and began yelling for me to leave the country as well. No one followed me or physically assaulted me and I was able to leave the area.
Later many people called to say they saw a clip of the incident on television. It really was a small riot in the hotel. Despite the fact that i clearly identified myself as a US citizen and political analyst, the Honduran press reported that I was Venezuelan—a complete fabrication of course—I´ve never even set foot in that country. Some apparently said I was with Telesur, and others that I was an Al Jazeera reporter, when in fact this agency simply engaged me as an analyst.
The level of intolerance and aggression was totally unexpected and disconcerting. I have never in my life encountered such a hostile response to a difference of opinion or been punished for expressing my views like this. I have been reporting on the lack of freedom of expression, the censoring and shutting down of media here in Honduras as a serious violation of basic civil liberties, and now I understand the context of intolerance and violence in which it takes place firsthand. Analyzing international relations is my job at the Center for International Policy and I have every right as a professional to interpret world events and opine on them. I understand that many can disagree but I do not understand why that disagreement should devolve into aggression and hostility.
I am profoundly upset by the attitude of these national and international observers who are supposed to be impartial but are unable to accept an opinion different from their own, and have demanded that I be thrown out of the country for expressing my opinions. I am not an electoral observer and was not here as an electoral observer. I have seen many heated elections in my life but never been the victim of a verbal lynching like the one I experienced last night, and much less from individuals charged with validating the fairness and openness of the electoral process. Political differences are not the issue here, the issue is tolerance and respect for others.
I am now concerned for my safety under a coup regime that has carried out massive human rights violations with impunity that I myself as a member of the international delegation on women´s human rights have documented in our delegation in August. My face has been broadcast over national television, accompanied by lies and distortions. I can take care of myself and have no reason to consider myself to be in imminent danger that I know of, but I ask the US Embassy to be aware of my situation and warn that if anything does happen to me it will be necessary to investigate the implication of the coup regime and its supporters, given the threats that I have received.