Honduras, One Year After the Coup
The US is pushing for normalisation with Honduras, but violence and repression are rising – and journalists are in the crosshairs
"Right now there are a bunch of military trucks driving around the city, full of soldiers, surrounding most of the important buildings downtown," Karla Lara tells me over the phone from the capital of Honduras, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of last year's coup d'etat. "It's pretty clear they're trying to scare people."
The renowned singer and human rights activist was speaking to me from her recording studio in Tegucigalpa, where she was rehearsing for a big public concert, organised by the National Front of Popular Resistance, to mark the anniversary. "The 28th [June] isn't about commemorating the coup, it's about repudiating it. We want to celebrate the day as a year of being in resistance. I have the coverage of being a public person, but it's been very, very intense. You get physically exhausted, but also emotionally exhausted."
The National Front of Popular Resistance, a coalition of hundreds of diverse civil society groups, was born out of last year's coup d'etat – when the military kidnapped then president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, and forcibly exiled him and his family from the country. The rupture of the constitutional order in Honduras, Latin America's first and only 21st century coup, unleashed a violent campaign of repression across the country under the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. That wave of violence and generalised impunity, largely directed against opponents of the coup regime, continues to this day under the government of president Porfirio Lobo, elected last November while the country was under a state of siege, in an election to which the UN and the OAS didn't even bother to send observers, and which a plurality of Latin American governments have refused to acknowledge.
"In Honduras right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup," Gerardo Torres, a Honduran activist visiting the United States Social Forum last week, told me. "But what people need to know is that more assassinations are happening now during the 'democratic' rule of President Lobo than during the era of Micheletti. When Micheletti ran the coup government, killings of students or resistance members were at least controversial, they made the international news. But the international news media has moved on – which is sad since now they're killing journalists."
Indeed, in 2010 at least eight journalists have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Honduras, all of them critics of the coup and/or of powerful business interests in the country. None of those murders have been solved, and Reporters Without Borders has called Honduras the world's most dangerous country for journalists in the first half of 2010. Dozens of anti-coup activists, members of the National Resistance Front, and union activists have also been murdered in the last year, often in broad daylight by men wearing masks or dressed in fatigues. The era of the death squad, that ignominious feature of Latin American state terrorism of the 70s and the 80s, appears to have made a come back in Honduras.
And sadly, but predictably, the US appears to have sided with the death squads. "Now it's time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community," the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said earlier this month, imploring other members of the Organisation of American States to re-admit Honduras to the organisation. A majority bloc of Latin American nations, led by Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador, disagreed, citing the horrendous human rights record in the country, and a lack of accountability for those behind the coup. And while hypocrisy in foreign policy is hardly news, it's worth noting here that the US state department released a harshly worded statement earlier this month chastising the Venezuelan government's "continuing assault on the freedom of the press" following that country's issuance of an arrest warrant for a media tycoon. A week later, with no fanfare and not a word about press freedoms, the US resumed military aid to the pariah government of Honduras.
A year after the coup the polarising figure of deposed president Zelaya, who elicited the ire of the Honduran ruling class by, among other things, raising the minimum wage, still dominates much of the media coverage. But the broad-based democracy movement born in the bloody aftermath of the coup continues to organise inside and outside of the country, at great personal risk, and makes great pains to express that the long-term fight in Honduras is much bigger than who sits in the presidential palace.
"A lot of people can't quite understand a movement that doesn't revolve around a caudillo," Gerardo tells me. "This resistance movement is wide and complex. We have feminists working with Christian activists, who are working with labour activists. Zelaya is important, but the popular movement more so. And we think the repression has built up because those who have always run the country are scared, and this is their desperate response. Them with their arms, us with our ideas."
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010