Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Situation in Honduras

A few weeks ago I attended a talk at the Casa Ben Linder on the current situation in Honduras. Patty Adams and Sydney Frey, members of the Ecumenical Committee in Nicaragua, recently returned from a week-long delegation to Honduras to accompany the Honduran people, be in solidarity with them, and act as international observers during this time of repression and instability.  Now, Patty and Syd have returned to Honduras to act as delegation coordinators for an indefinite amount of time. This is a summary of their talk from a few weeks ago, which includes their observations of and perspective on the current situation and its significance.


Syd and Patty began their talk by stressing the importance of knowing the facts in order to be able to counter the misinformation and misrepresentations of the coup in the media.  On June 25, a bill was introduced and approved in Honduran Congress which states that the Congress “disapproves” of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya’s conduct.  However, this bill gives no recourse for removal of the president, it simply states the Congress’ disapproval.  Later that night, the military informed President Zelaya that they would not give him the support he needed to complete the survey he had planned for June 28.  This survey, permitted under a citizen participation law that allows the president to conduct a non-binding survey to acquire information, seems to be at the heart of the matter.  The survey was set to inquire if the Honduran people want a fourth ballot box in the upcoming November election.  If so, these results would be brought to Congress for approval.  This fourth ballot box would be a referendum asking if the public wants to go forward with a constituent assembly to review the Honduran constitution (just a Wikipedia link, but a good place to start, the constitution has a controversial history) and contemplate a new one.  There was and is no chance of President Zelaya continuing his presidency after the next election because it would take until at least mid-2010 to convene the constituent assembly. So, as opposed to what the media has reported, this survey does not establish a new constitution, nor does it seek to keep President Zelaya in power.  Patty and Syd speculate that not only was the military ensuring that the survey did not take place, but they wanted to remind Hondurans and others who chooses the president - those with power, not the people as a whole.    

The people’s movement, the birthplace of the idea for a new constitution, is made up of several civil society organizations, including the Committee of Family Members of Those Disappeared and Detained (COFADEH), unions, especially the teachers’ union, and indigenous organizations, led by the Civic Council for Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPIHN).  Together, they founded the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Contra el Golpe (National Resistance to the Coup), known as the Frente, in response to June’s coup.  They are committed to non-violence and hold national weekly meetings dedicated to ending the repression and bringing President Zelaya back.  Despite the fact that they are non-violent, they have faced significant repression, including having their marches attacked by both the police and military.  These attacks have included baton beatings, sexual assault by baton, illegal pepper spray, and tear gas.  Some people have been killed and many are disappearing.  The U.S. media is reporting that no one has died, however, this is simply not the case.  This is the main reason the Honduran people’s movement has asked for international observers.  A major aspect of the international observers’ work is to listen to testimony from victims of repression.  One of the main reasons that the U.S. media is misrepresenting the situation is that journalists are being targeted in the repression.  Patty and Syd spoke with one journalist who has been beaten twice while attempting to report on the marches happening every day in Honduras.  They also heard testimony from teachers who suspect that the death lists are back.  Evidence for this includes the fact that coup-instated president Roberto Micheletti has appointed Billy Joya Améndola, previous head of the infamous 316 death squad during the 1980’s, as special security advisor.


With Zelaya now back in the country, the repression has only escalated.  To follow what is happening and do some of your own research, here are some helpful links:

  • The Quixote Center is a social justice organization working closely with the people of Honduras. Today's update "Tension in Tegucigalpa" was written by Patty, and it contains links to more information on the human rights violations occurring in the country. 
  • Another good source of information is Amnesty International's reporting.  
  • Here too is TeleSur, the local Honduran TV station that has audio and video feeds available online.  
  • And finally, a link to the School of the Americas Watch video of Zelaya's return to Honduras. 
All of these links have suggestions for how U.S. citizens can stay informed on what is happening and what they can do help stop the repression.  Many are of the opinion that the U.S. should just stay out of other people's business, and I admit I often get frustrated with the way my government interacts with other countries.  However, I think the important question to ask when it comes to the coup in Honduras is at what point did the U.S. start meddling? With a little research, I think we'll find that the U.S.'s involvement in Honduras extends much further back than a few months ago.  Perhaps the more interesting question is what has the U.S. done in the past to contribute to the creation of a situation where human rights violations are occurring? 

Just this morning one of the teachers here at the Center told me how important she thinks it is to stop the repression in Honduras because that is exactly how the war here in Nicaragua began. Many Nicaraguans are concerned that if it can happen in Honduras, it can happen here, and really anywhere in Latin America.  The conclusion for Patty and Syd has been that this is a testing ground, and if these undemocratic and repressive practices are allowed here, there’s no telling where they might happen next.              

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