Thursday, September 24, 2009
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.
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.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The trip was fast-paced, with two full days of travel to get to and from Ciudad Quesada and a handful of dance performances in three days. The group performed at two elementary schools, an immigration event sponsored by Alianza Migrante (complete with a rally and march calling for immigrants’ rights) called “Dia del Migrante,” and a church. At each stop 14 dancers and two musicians performed six to eight dances, including La Negrita, La Húngara, La Madrugada, El Solar de Monimbo, and the famous Palo de Mayo from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. This year the group had a marimba and a marimba player along, which added a lot to the traditional flavor of the performances. Performances were packed, and audiences were enthralled by the dancers and the music. During the school performances, Patricia Ruiz, the group’s director, would bring children onstage to learn the basic pasos (steps). And after the performances at the “Dia del Migrante,” several immigrants chatted with me about how the dances carried them back to their childhoods. They also shared some of the struggles faced by Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica. I was struck by the similarities between these stories and those that I’ve heard in my work with immigrants in the U.S. The struggle for the right to work, the right to an education, and the right to live free from discrimination were all mentioned at the “Dia del Migrante.”
From small children to grandparents, people were delighted with the performances, and their smiles made the group’s impact obvious. And watching the young people dance, I could see their passion for this art form and for their culture in their smiles and the way they moved their hips. It was a powerful experience for me as a foreigner in Nicaragua to observe how a group Nicaraguan young people experience being foreigners. One young dancer, Jorge, told me that last year he was moved to tears by the joy he felt at having the opportunity to travel outside his country and the pride he felt in representing the core of his identity as a Nicaraguan and as a young man through dance. When I’m in Nicaragua, I don’t think much about taking pride in being from the U.S. and sharing my culture with others, so these young people gave me much new insight into my role as a foreign volunteer.